Unused medications of can be dropped off at dozens of sites on Long Island on Saturday as part of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, a federal initiative aimed at getting potentially dangerous medicines out of circulation.
Old medications lie at the core of several societal and environmental problems, say experts, who underscore that narcotic drugs in medicine cabinets are a lure to abuse. Flushing potent medications down toilets can taint groundwater supplies, they added.
Medications can be anonymously deposited in drop boxes, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday. Most sites are located in police stations and hospitals throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.
In Nassau, Take-Back boxes can be found at local police departments in Lake Success, Port Washington, Freeport and Garden City, among other county locations. In Suffolk, the Peconic Bay Hospital lobby has a drop-off box as does the Northport Veterans Affairs Hospital police station.
The effort, sponsored by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, is held twice annually, once in the spring and again in October. This is the 11th designated day since 2010.
In its last drug take-back day this spring, the DEA reported its largest haul since beginning the program, with an estimated 893,498 pounds of unwanted medicines — about 447 tons — collected from about 5,400 sites nationwide. The agency said 47,596 pounds of unwanted medicine were recorded in New York alone.
Although anyone with unused medications is free to drop them off at many of the same sites year-round, the emphasis on the two designated days helps focus attention on opioid drugs, the narcotic compounds at the root of a growing epidemic on Long Island and beyond. King Kullen supermarkets with pharmacies accept unfinished and expired medications all year, under a special grant from the state Department of Health, officials said Friday.
“Unwanted, expired or unused prescription medications are often an unintended catalyst for addiction,” DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said in a statement.
Surveys conducted by the DEA show that a majority of prescription drug abusers say they obtained their pills from the legally dispensed medicines belonging to friends and family members.
Year-round deposits at more places would make it easier to get unfinished medications out of circulation, experts said Friday.
“We need to make it more convenient for the public to do this,” said Dr. Karin Rhodes, vice president for care management with the Northwell Health system and a professor of emergency medicine at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine.
Rhodes blames health care providers for much of the leftover medicine, saying they prescribe too many individual pills in the first place.
She is the co-author of a study published last month in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, which found that of 79 patients, each of whom were prescribed 28 narcotic painkillers by dentists, 72 patients had their prescriptions filled. On average, each patient had 15 pills remaining for a total of 1,010 pills left to languish in medicine cabinets.
Adrienne Esposito, meanwhile, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said taking back unused drugs is important because there is no safe way to dispose of them at home.
“We know from scientific testing that 70 percent of water samples in America have small traces of pharmaceutical drugs,” she said, noting that samples contained traces of antibiotics and anticonvulsants, the result of flushing medications down a toilet.
“On Long Island flushing a drug means that it is going directly into the groundwater or our costal water,” Esposito said.
She said controlled incineration by professionals is the only appropriate method of destroying unwanted medications.