Disposal Event Nets Nearly 600 Pounds of Drugs

The lawn of the Michigan State Capitol was flooded with pills Tuesday, as the Michigan Pharmacists Association accepted unused, unwanted or expired medications.

And the results were big. The event turned up 589 pounds of drugs, worth more than $1 million.

"We're delighted that that level of drugs has not reached the street in other methods and in other ways. That's our main effort," said Jim Bock of the Michigan Pharmacists Association.

"You find out that five milligrams isn't going to do it and you've had the prescription for 90 days worth and so suddenly that drug is not of any value to you and so you hang on to it and how can you dispose of it?" said Ronald Melaragni, of Sparrow Plus Pharmacies. "And that's what this function and others can help us with."

And Melaragni says it's important to get the word about because there's been a change in protocol for disposing of drugs.

"Meds are a lot more complicated than they were 40 years ago," he said. "There's a lot of really exotic things going on in chemistry that weren't available 40 years ago and the impact on the environment has proven to be somewhat disastrous."

Lansing Chief Operating Officer Chad Gamble says he was always taught to flush leftover prescriptions down the toilet so they wouldn't fall into the wrong hands.

"Well we now know after working with the EPA, DEQ and other sampling jobs, we know that those can get into the waste stream because the waste water treatment plant is not designed and cannot possibly remove all the contaminants that come into it in the form of pharmaceuticals," he said.

The DEQ says there is evidence of pharmaceuticals in the state's water, but as of now the levels are low and there is no known health risk.

Gamble says Lansing's drinking water is not at issue. That water comes from aquifers below the city, which naturally purify water as it trickles below ground. The water in the rivers however goes through the waste water treatment plant. Gamble says the plant meets all federal regulations but it's impossible to filter out the pharmaceuticals.

"A lot of people don't realize these are persistent chemicals," said Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. "They don't break down, these drugs, and they do end up in our water."

The Medication Disposal Event is in its fourth year. More than 1,500 pounds of medication had been collected over the last three years, totaling $1.6 million. The drugs collected today were incinerated.

Ingham County is working on a plan with local pharmacies that would allow people to return their unused medications at certain locations all year long. That plan should be rolled out October 1.

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