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The City Journals

Police urge residents to discard unused medications properly

Oct 31, 2016 02:16PM ● By Brian Shaw

A picture of a Rite Aid pharmacy in South Salt Lake, where Saturday's drug takeback will be held. (Trisha Gold)

By Brian Shaw | [email protected]

South Salt Lake, Utah - Many South Salt Lake residents may be faced with a growing problem: what to do with unused medications collecting space in their cabinets. 

The city’s police department has a solution: take back your medicine cabinets once and for all. Along with help from Rite Aid’s pharmacists on 3300 South 700 East, the police will once again conduct a “Drug Takeback” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday Oct. 22. Anyone can come and get rid of their unused medicines in a safe way. 

According to Sgt. Bill Hogan of the SSL Police Department, this is no ordinary operation. “It’s actually the Drug Enforcement Administration that sponsors it, spearheads the campaign and looks for other agencies [like ours] to partner with,” he said. 

Although other police and law enforcement agencies have partnered with the DEA in years past, South Salt Lake’s police department has enjoyed a longstanding seven-year run with the federal agency to help obtain and keep potentially fatal medications out of harm’s way. 

According to a 2013 study from the American Journal of Managed Care, “Accumulation of unused medications can have negative consequences, including drug diversion and unintended poisonings, wasted healthcare resources, and environmental harm.”  

 To that end, added Hogan, it’s extremely important for city residents to discard their unused medications in a safe manner. 

“For starters, this kind of operation can clear out unused medicines and it prevents accidental ingestion. It also helps curb home burglaries and we all (know of someone) who has some sort of an addiction problem to medication,” Hogan said. 

That same 2013 study by the AJMC found that the most returned first-fill medication at a drug take-back event was analgesics (pain relievers) at a whopping 34 percent. Compare that amount to 13 percent and eight percent for antibacterial agents and cardiovascular agents, respectively, and you can begin to understand why the city’s police department has such cause for concern. 

While Hogan couldn’t pin down the number of times his department has had to respond to a report of an accidental ingestion or unintended poisoning, he said it has occurred. “It happens all too often where we’ll have an unintentional victim, particularly a child,” Hogan said. “This takeback is an effective way to help combat this problem.” 

Hogan added that the police department in the city of South Salt Lake has a good partnership with Rite Aid, which allows the department to set up their drug takeback in the store’s parking lot. 

Along with assistance from pharmacy students from the University of Utah, the arrangement between the department, DEA and Rite Aid allows the officers handling the unused medications initially to hand them over to the pharmacists and pharmacy students, who then schedule them out according to type and brand and package them accordingly. 

At that point, the DEA transports the unused medicines from Rite Aid to a secure facility in Davis County for incineration, according to Gary Keller, executive officer and public information officer for the city’s police department. 

Unused medicines should never be disposed of by flushing them down the toilet. 

“We don’t want them flushed down the toilets because it creates a dangerous cocktail in the watershed and costs the taxpayers more money because of the expensive, time-consuming treatments required at the water treatment plant in order to properly treat the water that is contaminated,” Hogan said. 

Hogan added that he believes this twice yearly program works. For example, he said that last fall the program, without having much in terms of advertising, still netted 55.9 lbs. of unused medications that were returned to the police and DEA. 

Last spring, however, with the help of a major advertising campaign that included emails, banners on websites and newsletters and a large banner posted on the corner of 3300 South and 700 East, Hogan said the department received 112 lbs. of unused medications—double the amount. 

“I’m hopeful we’ll reach that number this year, or possibly surpass it,” Hogan said. For those who can’t get to Rite Aid on October 22, the city’s police department also has a permanent drug disposal bin at its location on 2835 S. Main, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.