A $350,000 grant from the state Department of Health announced Monday will increase the number of drug drop-off locations and expand take-back programs on Long Island and the rest of the state to keep people from flushing pharmaceuticals down the drain.

The grant will also fund a King Kullen Dispose My Meds pharmacy initiative for three years. A November pilot program in 11 stores collected more than 500 pounds of pills and liquid medicines.

"This is an opportunity for us to stop this from becoming a critical problem before it gets any worse," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which is administering the grant.

King Kullen did not have an estimated value of the drugs collected. More than $250,000 worth of pharmaceuticals were dropped off in the first month at one store, said Al Hesse, King Kullen's director of pharmacy. "One individual alone turned in over $126,000 worth of unused medication that they kept receiving from mail order after repeatedly telling them they didn't need it any more."

That included $80,000 worth of the cancer drug thalidomide -- used to treat morning sickness decades ago, but traced to thousands of birth defects.

"I hate to think about that getting into our groundwater or our landfills," Hesse said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Dispose My Meds began on Long Island as a partnership between the grocery chain, Esposito's group, United Water and Suffolk County Water Authority. Each store with a pharmacy had disposal boxes that, once filled, were shipped for incineration. The grant provides more formal funding. The goal is to make it easy, safe and convenient to get rid of noncontrolled drugs, Esposito said.

Ruth Delisio, 84, of Levittown, dropped off 10 bottles after searching for a safe place to get rid of her drugs and those of her late husband.

"He had all of these prescriptions tucked in the back of the medicine cabinet and they had been pretty much ignored," she said.

Suffolk County Water Authority began testing for pharmaceuticals in 2008 and has found trace levels, Chief Sustainability Officer Carrie Meek Gallagher said.

"This is really important that we're catching this and starting programs . . . before this becomes the next major contaminant in our source water for all of our drinking water across Long Island."

The grant will pay for 12 DEA-approved drop-off boxes in the state, with seven at Long Island police departments or ambulance companies. It will also fund staffing and other costs at disposal events in Suffolk County, three Long Island municipalities and elsewhere in the state. An education campaign will also be launched.

"We really need to make sure that these prescription drugs end up in an incinerator and not in our groundwater, surface waters and . . . bays," Esposito said.