Operation Medicine Cabinet

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Helps get rid of expired, unused medicine

By John Barnhart

Home Instead Senior Care, Bedford Memorial Hospital, and the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office are teaming up for the second time to help people get rid of expired and unused medicine. It’s called Operation Medicine Cabinet. The first time it was held was in June and, according to Brenda Dixon of Home Instead, they collected 49 pounds of medicine ranging from prescription drugs to over-the-counter medicine.

    “It’s a great prevention project,” said Sgt. David Marsh, of the Sheriff’s Office.

    Prevention, for the Sheriff’s Office, comes from the fact that some prescription medicines, such as pain medications and psychological drugs, have street abuse potential. Marsh said one lady turned in 800 pills of a hallucinogenic drug.

    Even if a prescription medication has no abuse potential, an expired or unused medication can still be dangerous. Dixon said that 29 percent of hospital visits by elderly people are due to them taking an expired drug, or the wrong drug.

    According to Dixon, the potency of a drug can change over time. In some cases, it loses that potency. The prescribed dosage of a drug that has passed its expiration date may no longer yield the intended effect, with serious consequences.

    Sometimes age can increase the potency of a drug. Dixon said that in some cases the drug may become two or three times as potent. This means that taking the prescribed dose of an expired prescription could be a major overdose. It could kill you.

    A medicine cabinet full of unused drugs could also result in accidentally mixing drugs that shouldn’t be mixed, or taking a dose of the wrong drugs. Dixon notes that this can be a serious problem for elderly people after the death of a spouse. The deceased spouse’s prescriptions are still in the medicine cabinet, creating the risk that the surviving spouse may accidentally grab the wrong pill bottle.

    Not only does Operation Medicine Cabinet provide a chance to get rid of this stuff, it also provides the opportunity to dispose of it properly.

    “We tell people, ‘Don’t flush it and contaminate the water supply’,” said Marsh.

    “The toilet and sink route is starting to cause problems in metropolitan areas,” added Dixon.

    The chemicals in these drugs often aren’t removed by the sewage treatment process, or the process of treating drinking water. Some municipal water supplies, for example, have been contaminated by birth control pills that have been flushed.

    “The amount of estrogen is unbelievable,” she said.

    Marsh notes that throwing old medicine in the trash isn’t a good idea, either. It creates the risk of the medicine working its way into the water table, contaminating ground water.

    When people drop off medicine at Operation Medicine Cabinet, they fill out a form and sign a release. Marsh said the Sheriff’s Office then gets a court order from a judge to incinerate it.

    You don’t even have to get out of your car. You can just drive up, fill out the forms, drop the drugs off and drive off. However, be sure to bring the medicine in its original bottle. 

    Having the drug in the original pill bottle is especially important if it happens to be a controlled substance. Then, deputies will have to ask you a lot of questions about how you happen to have that medicine.

    “We are not looking to charge anybody,” Marsh noted.

    So, bring that narcotic pain medication in its original prescription bottle.

    Operation Medicine Cabinet takes place Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Bedford Lowe’s parking lot located on U. S. 460 at its intersection with Shiloh Church Road just east of Bedford. They will be collecting the old medications from 9 a.m. until noon.

    The Alzheimer’s Association of Central and Western Virginia will also be on hand, accepting donations. Anita Lowe, Bedford Memorial’s public relations coordinator, said the Alzheimer’s Association will have a food tent set up with biscuits and bagels.

    For more information, contact Brenda Dixon, of Home Instead, at (434) 385-0321.