KHI News Service

Kansas drug disposal program collects 6,000 pounds of medications in first year

State officials looking to add more collection sites for second year of program

By Mike Sherry | May 14, 2013

Lori Murdock did some work Monday at the Cedar Creek Pharmacy, which she owns and operates in De Soto, Kan. She is among the first pharmacists to participate in a state medication disposal program, and she will get rid of the products she collects by shipping them off in the 20-gallon box that sits along the far wall.

View larger photo

Pharmacist Lori Murdock said she often heard the question even from people who weren’t her customers: How do we get rid of our old drugs?

As the owner of Cedar Creek Pharmacy in this western Johnson County community, Murdock responded by signing up a couple months ago for the medication disposal program run by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

“It’s a big concern to the public and the general population to say, ‘OK, I can’t just keep flushing this stuff … and I really don’t want to put it in the trash because who knows who can get into it and where is it going,’” Murdock said. “Our population is getting more interested in doing the right things.”

Kansas officials are marking the first year of operation of the medication disposal program, having collected about 6,000 pounds of uncontrolled substances, including pet medications and cough syrup.

There are 70 collection sites around the state, including about a dozen county hazardous waste drop-off centers.

The state program differs from the drug take-back effort the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) coordinates around the country two times a year. The main difference is that the state program does not accept the more dangerous and addictive medications collected by the DEA. Some law enforcement agencies collect those narcotics year-round, and the state program aims to give residents as many locations as possible to drop off the uncontrolled substances at their convenience.

Plans for the program

KDHE officials said hope to double the number of locations within the next year and plan to initiate an awareness campaign within the next six months, said Jessica Willard, the agency’s program manager.

Kansas regulators had to modify state rules to accommodate the drug return program. The state essentially reclassified medications as regular household waste, making it easier for pharmacies to handle the material.

There also are federal regulations pending, based on a law passed three years ago, would make it easier for households to dispose of even the most addictive narcotics, such as morphine and codeine.

Some county-based sites collect uncontrolled substances as part of the Medication Disposal Program run by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Workers at one site filled the container pictured here. State officials declined to identify the location for fear of alerting potential thieves.

View larger photo

One way would be to allow pharmacists to include returns with the expired and unused medications they already send back to drug companies for destruction.

Public health and law enforcement officials say removing excess medications from households also can help avoid abuse by teens or others.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010 reported a 111 percent increase in emergency room visits prompted by nonmedical uses of prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone.

The DEA prescription drug take-back events are held twice a year.

At the state level, Willard said, “The story we have heard over and over again is that someone died in the house and they have a lot of pharmaceuticals to get rid of.”

One driver dropped off a trunk-load full of pharmaceuticals at a county hazardous waste site, she said.

Program officials would like to get more participation from chain drug stores, Willard said. Hy-Vee is the only one participating now.

Corporate officials at Walgreens and CVS Caremark did not respond to e-mails seeking comment for this story.

Some counties, including Johnson, have been reluctant to join the program out of concern that people might try to steal the drugs from their hazardous waste sites.

Unused prescriptions can be turned in year-round at many local law enforcement locations. Kansans should contact their local sheriff’s office or police department for more information.

More Americans abuse prescription drugs than use cocaine, hallucinogens and heroin combined, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Studies show that individuals who abused prescription drugs often obtained them from family or friends, including from the home medicine cabinet. Officials said many Americans do not know how to properly dispose of unused medicine, often flushing them down the toilet or throwing them away, which poses safety and health hazards.

The main concern for Johnson County, said Julie Coon, solid waste management specialist, is keeping tabs on members of the public who are at the site. She said they have had some problems, for instance, with people trying to steal car batteries from the reuse store operating at the site.

She said that the county landfill, which is lined and outfitted with a water treatment system, is safe enough to handle medications disposed of in the trash. That’s safer than flushing drugs down the toilet, she said.

Coon said the county recommends mixing the drugs with something like coffee grounds or cat litter to deter theft once the garbage is at the curb.

For pharmacists such as Murdock, accepting the surplus drugs requires a financial commitment.

She said it’s going to cost her about $100 to dispose of each 20-gallon container she fills and she might collect enough to require quarterly returns.

“I know I have a customer who just passed away who was on a lot of medications,” she said, “so it’s not going to take long to fill it up. The cost to me, it’s not cheap by any means.”

The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute. It is supported in part by a variety of underwriters. The News Service is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy-making environment. All News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution, including a link back to when a story is reposted online. An automatically updated feed of headlines and more from KHI can be included on your website using the KHI widget. More about the News Service at or contact us at (785) 233-5443.