Recycling Medications | Nose Under the Community Tent | Paul Losch | Palo Alto Online |

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By Paul Losch

Recycling Medications

Uploaded: Jul 28, 2011

What do you do when you want to dispose of a medication—especially prescription, especially those that are known for effective treatment when used properly, and subject to abuse and addiction? Flush it down the toilet? Throw it in the trash? Take it back to the prescribing pharmacy? How about the Palo Alto HazMat recycling program on Embarcadero Way? Something else?

I recall several years ago when my son had his wisdom teeth removed, and he was given a prescription from the dentist for Vicodin to relieve the pain. It is an opiate, and is highly addictive. Many people who have no history of substance abuse have gotten "hooked" on it, and some have to receive treatment at a rehab center or a similar program in order to get past their addiction. There are other similar substances—another is Oxycotin--which can be great when used correctly, but can lead to abuse.

In my son's case, he said he did not want/need the Vicodin for his pain, so I tried to take it back to the pharmacy where we had picked it up. The pharmacy told me they don't typically take prescriptions back once they are dispensed, but for some reason they took this one back.

At the time, I had no idea that prescription drugs can be recycled here in Palo Alto at the center off Embarcadero Road where people take such things as fluorescent light bulbs used hazardous chemicals. In fact, I did not know until this past Tuesday, when I was participating at the July Parks and Recreation Commission monthly meeting. A member of the Public Works department mentioned it as we were discussing how the Household Waste and proposed new recycling center could be configured in the future. Did you know this little factoid?

I don't think anybody has any idea how much unwanted and unneeded medications are disposed of improperly, but my hunch is that it is a lot! This strikes me as an issue that is a good candidate for State Senator Joe Simitian's "There Ought to Be a Law" program. To whit:

Would it be easier, safer and a more actively used "recycling program" if the CVS, Walgreen, Safeway Pharmacy, and locally operated drug stores had a program to take such medications back, so that they are disposed of safely? How many pills would not get flushed down people's toilets, which creates a hazard and a treatment challenge for our water supply? How many containers of half used Vicodin bottles that have been sitting on the cabinet shelf for months or years could turned in instead of being a temptation for someone? How many lives could be affected in a positive way with an easy way to safely remove these medications from medicine cabinets?

It's great that the City has a facility that accepts such medications. But I suspect that few people in town are aware of it. (now the YOU are, please use it!) More to the point, wouldn't is be easier and more effective for people to be able to take the pills back to the place they got them for safe recycling?