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October 27, 2016
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Disposing of Medical Leftovers

One of the issues we've been discussing around the house is the safe disposal of outdated pharmaceuticals. The pills in question aren't ones we were supposed to have taken but forgot, but leftover prescriptions which were to be taken "as needed", or which our doctors have advised us to discontinue. The issue with most basic disposal methods (dump in trash, flush down the toilet, etc.) is that these toxic-if-misused chemicals can be consumed by pets and wild animals, or they can be dissolved into the water table, killing and contmaminating local plants and animals.

Many communities have specific places and methods for the safe disposal of unneeded and expired medications. Drop-off locations may be found at the municipal, county, or state level. (Here's a link to US-based medicine-disposal resources.) Some places want you to bring your pills, along with your used sharps and medical wastes, to a local hospital; others have drop-boxes at the local police station. Usually, you need to anonymize the information on the pill vial — use a Sharpie to black out your name and the name of the prescribing physician. Some places want you to keep the name of the medication, and its expiration date, legible. (I suspect this may be part of a program to get unexpired medications into the hands of people who need, but can't afford, those chemicals.) Others ask you to remove the entire label.

In my part of New Jersey, safe pill disposal is handled by a group called Safe Coalition, and an anonymous drop-box — one of three in the county — is located right inside my local police department. They accept pills only (no liquids, syringes, or medical waste), they don't need to know what the pills are (or even if they might not have expired), and they dispose of them by incinerating them in one huge, mixed lot.

While this is a great service, the politics of Safe Coalition, and other similar organizations, concern me.

New Jersey patients have been waging a war against our conservative governor, who — despite a referendum passed in its favor — has done everything he can to block patients' access to medical marijuana, even when it's the only medication that will help those people. He blocks all information that could give him the scientific proof he says he requires, and publicly continues to hold the belief that the only thing the hemp plant is good for is getting people high. Safe Coalition's home page is laden with anti-marijuana images, slamming home a bias similar to our governor's.

If Chris Christie's war against medical marijuana weren't enough, we've spent the past few years bombarded by ads suggesting that every pharmaceutical in our medicine chest is being abused by our children, our spouses, and our elders behind our backs. Safe Coalition's mission is "To live in a Safe and healthy community by eliminating drug use, underage drinking and prescription drug abuse." Sorry, but "drug use" includes all drugs, including prescription drugs used as prescribed. And as a libertarian, I believe that self-medication and recreational use of Federally-proscribed drugs are within an individual's personal prerogative, provided that nobody else is harmed in the process.

In light of the current "Drug War", Safe Coalition's manifesto reminds me to fear that there will come a time, and several places in the United States, in which the possession of prescription-only pharmaceuticals will be used against American citizens. Any identifiable information on a collected-for-disposal vial vial, bottle, or jar of pills may later be used to harm us, our doctors, or our pharmacists.

In light of this, I'm hesitant to recommend this sort of service to anyone with "leftover" medications, or whose doctor has changed his (or her) medication loads and doses — which includes most of us living with type 2 diabetes.

I wish there were a more acceptable alternative.

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