By Annette Hinkle
Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, talks about the new East End Medication Disposal Program which launches on October 21.
For decades, people have been told to flush their unused medication. This new program is designed to keep medication out of the groundwater supply and will consist of a series of drop boxes at village and town police stations throughout the East End. What will happen to the medication once it’s collected through these drop boxes?
Basically the police departments will be involved. These things will be picked up by haulers and sent to be incinerated. That’s the safest way to dispose of it. There will be a chain of custody to get the medication through the system.
How did the group become involved in this effort to dispose of medication in this way?
Several years ago, I spoke at a garden club meeting in East Hampton Village. It was probably around 2005 and I had a discussion with people afterwards who said more data was coming out on this. In the early 2000s, the U.S. Geological Survey saw medication in water resources as an emerging issue. It was also one identified by the county and was something water providers and public health people were looking at. Suffolk County had put a program together for west end towns to collect medication. I felt we have to do something on the East End like this.
Jeremy Samuelson, who was with the Group then, was in touch with County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and talked about the quarter percent sales tax program which is for water quality programs. We had to find matching support and local support. The county is underwriting the cost of the boxes and the physical cost of doing outreach — a 90,000 piece mailer we’re sending out.
Why is it important for people to use these boxes?
There are two elements. From the police department standpoint, it’s about kids raiding medicine cabinets and mixing drugs with a beer. It’s easy access and we want people not to have access. From the environmental standpoint, when these drugs get to the groundwater its heading to someone’s drinking water. When you know the product doesn’t belong in the water you want to avoid it.
What’s the science saying about the effects of medication in groundwater?
We’re not really sure. If concentrations continue to climb, we don’t really know. Unlike a pesticide where you have to do field studies, a drug trial doesn’t work that way. You just put a bunch of people on the medication and see what happens. You certainly don’t blend it.
What kind of drugs are we specifically seeing in water?
Suffolk County Water Authority is starting to pick up a variety — it’s anti cholesterol and anti-seizure medication, antibiotics and pain relievers. Those are the main ones. If you mix them in a shot glass, you wouldn’t want to drink it — and that’s definitely something that’s not thought about on the front end. More and more medications are being approved for more things. This is one way to take pills otherwise in groundwater out of there. You can’t stop excretion of medication, but if you’re talking oxycontin, you want it out of the groundwater.
Is there a lot of this stuff being detected in wells?
Mostly they are found in trace amounts. We would rather deal with trace amounts rather than having more public wells shut down. If that’s happening we need to pay attention. The health department has studied it in private wells and public wells and in fact the water authority is testing for it on a regular basis.
But there’s not been a lot of prior data on this because it is a new phenomenon and the use of medication is going up as the population ages.
Do you think this program will be successful?
In the first six to eight months this program was in place in western Suffolk, 1,000 pounds of medication was turned in. That’s a lot of pills. The bottom line is we’ve got a management issue we have to deal with. Now we have an infrastructure in place and hope people respond. It’s one thing we can put a check next to for clean water. We have a plan and a program.