Opinion by Dr. Richard Brown and Michele Taurisano R. P.H., Bassett Healthcare Network,
Let Bassett help clean your medicine cabinet
Bassett Healthcare Network wants to help tidy up your house — or at least your medicine cabinet.
For several years, Bassett has encouraged its patients to bring unneeded, unwanted or expired
medications to medication return kiosks at three locations: the outpatient clinic pharmacy in Cooperstown; the FoxCare Pharmacy at FoxCare Center in Oneonta; and the outpatient pharmacy at O’Connor Hospital in Delhi.
Here are some things to keep in mind when using this service:
• This service is open to the public — you do not need to be a Bassett patient to participate.
• The program covers over-the-counter, prescription, and veterinary (pet) medications.
• Pills and liquids can be deposited in the kiosk. Inhalers and sprays should be brought to the pharmacy window itself. This program does not accept needles and other sharps.
• Participants should only deposit medications prescribed to themselves, a dependent, or someone who is deceased.
• Medications do not need to be in their original containers.
Bassett is preparing for a significant expansion next spring. But why all the fuss? Why does it matter if your medicine cabinet is cluttered? Why not just toss medications in the trash? It is estimated that roughly 30% to 40% of prescribed medications are unused and discarded. That’s not just clutter. It’s a danger to our communities and environment.
Safety and security
Medicines are powerful tools for fighting infection, easing symptoms and helping your body recover from illness or injury. Like an electric power tool, though, drugs can cause harm if not used in the correct way.
Each year U.S. poison control centers receive thousands of calls about injuries due to home medication errors — including cases of hospitalization and death. Children and pets are in the greatest danger since they don’t know better. But adults can confuse bottles as well, so the fewer the better.
Then there is the need to guard against addition. A friend or relative’s medicine cabinet can be an easy source for prescription painkillers for someone in the grip of opioid addiction. Many of us can’t imagine that of themselves or someone they know — but addiction can happen to anyone. It is best to eliminate the possibility.
Effects on the environment
Of course, there are other methods of removing unwanted materials from homes. Why not throw leftover medications away? Or flush them down the toilet?
Drugs designed to dissolve and affect your body also break down in nature and affect wildlife. Drugs in the trash eventually seep into the soil and groundwater. Since wastewater treatment plans aren’t designed to remove drugs dissolved in water, medications flushed down the toilet enter nature even faster, endangering aquatic life and community water supplies.
Pioneering a better system
Bassett’s drug takeback programs began with concerns about safety and the local environment. Network leaders estimated 4,000 pounds of unused medications are discarded in our local area each year. The network’s goal is to easily and safely handle the disposal of these unused medications.
Bassett’s drug take back program began in 2015 with a medical staff resolution to provide ready access for medication return and safe disposal. Our resolution was adopted by the Medical Society of the State of New York in 2016.
Dr. Joseph Sellers, physician executive for the Bassett Medical Group, brought the resolution to the American Medical Association in 2016 where it became part of the AMA core strategies to address the opioid epidemic. Bassett and Medical Society representatives were also involved in the New York State Medication Disposal Act signed into law in 2018.
Rollout of the statewide law is still pending.
In the meantime, Bassett’s program has been a success and continues to expand. With its three current kiosk locations, Bassett collected almost 1,500 pounds of drugs for disposal in 2020. Between now and National Drug Take Back Day next April, Bassett will be installing four additional kiosks: at Little Falls Hospital, Cobleskill Regional Hospital, A. O. Fox Hospital and A. O. Fox’s Tri-Town Campus. The hope is these will encourage the regular disposal of medications with readily available, safe disposal sites. Expect to see that service highlighted during “Take Back Week” in April to encourage everyone to “spring clean” their medicine cabinet.
Dr. Richard Brown is a senior attending physician in the Psychiatry Department at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown. Michele Taurisano, R.Ph. is network manager of pharmacy operations.