By Marissa Maier
Most Americans glance past at least one bottle of prescription medication during their morning and evening rituals. In countless homes, these plastic cylinders filled with pills in all shapes and colors are gathering dust. But when it comes time to move or renovate or simply clean out the bathroom, what will happen to these drugs? Will they be flushed in the toilet or swallowed up in a drain? Are they thrown in the garbage or put away in storage?
As recycling becomes commonplace and municipalities sponsor campaigns to help citizens properly remove pollutants, like electronic waste and hazardous materials from their homes, consumers are rethinking medication disposal as well.
Robert Grisnik, owner and supervising pharmacist of Southrifty Drug in Southampton, noted that responsibly discarding prescribed drugs is more than an issue of logistics.
“Young children are getting hooked on prescription drugs. They start playing around with the medicines,” Grisnik said in a telephone interview. “[And] you can’t get the drugs out of the water system. You’ll find studies throughout the country where various types of medication have been found in the water in cities and aquifers.”
On Wednesday, November 17, 13 pharmacies on the East End, including Southrifty and Sag Harbor pharmacy, will hold a medicine “take back” event. The project is the first initiative by the newly formed Peconic Independent Pharmacy Association (PIPA).
During the “take back,” customers are encouraged to bring their expired or unwanted prescriptions and over-the-counter medications to one of the participating businesses. The collected materials will be taken to a facility for environmentally safe incineration, says a PIPA press release.
Grisnik, who spearheaded the alliance, hosted a similar event in April. Under the guidance of the National Community Pharmacy Association (NCPA) and with help from Southampton Village law enforcement, Grisnik collected 1,144 bottles of drugs.
He explained that under the federal Controlled Substances Act pharmacists are prohibited from accepting expired or opened medications without the presence of a police agency. For the upcoming event, local police will haul the controlled substances to an undisclosed incineration plant while the other, non-habit forming medications will be shipped to a facility in Texas also for incineration.
“WLNG did a live broadcast and because it was done during Earth Week, it was an educational type broadcast,” Grisnik recalled of the first “take back” event.
On air, Grisnik remembered, village police chief William Wilson, Jr., highlighted the dangers of keeping controlled prescription medications in the house with young adults.
According to data from the NCPA “71,000 children aged 18 and younger are seen in emergency rooms, every year, for unintentional overdoses of prescription and over-the-counter drugs and more than three in five teens say prescription pain relievers are easy to get from parents’ medicine cabinets.”
NCPA also reports that a number of pharmaceuticals have been found in the drinking water of over 41 million Americans. The presence of these medications in water supplies could negatively impact both humans and wildlife, NCPA continues.
After hearing the WLNG live broadcast, Grisnik was contacted by a handful of local pharmacists who wished to participate in the next event. He soon had grander ideas for a wide-spread “take back.”
“I asked, ‘Why don’t we take the lead on helping the community,’” Grisnik said.
Over a dozen East End pharmacists gathered in Hampton Bays three weeks later for the inaugural PIPA meeting. In total, 13 pharmacies stretching from Mattituck to Shelter Island will accept medicines on Wednesday.
As chain drug stores best local pharmacies throughout the country, community initiatives might give smaller operations an edge over their cooperate competition. (Just last Friday, The Bridgehampton Pharmacy, owned by Frank Calvo, shuttered its doors due to what Calvo termed a credit line issue. Calvo’s East Hampton pharmacy, however, will remain open, having reportedly received a last minute reprieve in the form of an anonymous donor who is poised to make a big donation.)
“We have the ability to do something like this faster because we are calling each pharmacist to organize it,” Sag Harbor Pharmacy co-owner Stan Weiss remarked in an interview. “We don’t have to go through the chain of command.”
Grisnik carefully noted that the main point of the “take back” is community service.
“We didn’t put this together from a business angle,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”