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Clear out the medicine cabinet: Dispose of unused drugs Saturday at takeback sites

WILLMAR -- Got unused medications lying around? National Prescription Drug Takeback Day is Saturday, giving the public an opportunity to clear out their medicine cabinets and dispose safely of drugs they no longer need. Participating law enforcem...

Briana Sanchez / TribuneKandiyohi County Chief Deputy Greg Stehn opens the two locks on the prescription drug drop box Tuesday at the Law Enforcement Center in Willmar. The permanent drop box is available during regular business hours, and special hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Kandiyohi County Chief Deputy Greg Stehn opens the two locks on the prescription drug drop box Tuesday at the Law Enforcement Center in Willmar. The permanent drop box is available during regular business hours, and special hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

WILLMAR - Got unused medications lying around?

National Prescription Drug Takeback Day is Saturday, giving the public an opportunity to clear out their medicine cabinets and dispose safely of drugs they no longer need.

Participating law enforcement centers and police departments across the state will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to accept everything from painkillers to statins.

"Bring them in. No questions asked," said Dan Hartog, Kandiyohi County Sheriff.

Sites participating in the takeback will accept all types of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The drugs that are collected will be weighed, boxed up and disposed of safely.

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This is the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's 11th takeback event. Last year a record 447 tons of unused and expired prescription medications were collected at drop-off sites across the country.

A major benefit, according to Hartog: "It helps get drugs off the street."

Unused prescription drugs can be an easy target for theft by someone who plans to use the drugs themselves or sell them on the street, he said.

The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that the majority of prescription drug misuse involves drugs obtained from family and friends, including the home medicine cabinet. Teens are especially likely to use this route to obtain prescription drugs.

The majority of new heroin users in the U.S. also started with prescription painkillers, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Leftover and expired medications can pose a safety risk to children too, who might find them and accidentally ingest them, Hartog said.

There's the environment to consider as well. It's common for people to get rid of unused medications by pouring them down the drain or flushing them down the toilet but this can end up contaminating the water supply. Medications that go to the landfill can filter into the ecosystem, degrade water quality and harm aquatic life.

The past decade or so has seen a nationwide push to close a long-standing gap in the safe disposal of unused medication. Takeback events have raised public awareness of the issue and provided a venue for people to clear out their medicine cabinet.

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Increasingly, communities are installing permanent drop boxes as well that allow the public to dispose of unwanted medications year round.

Most are located at police departments and law enforcement centers where they can be supervised and the drugs securely stored until they are disposed of, typically through incineration. Some pharmacies accept unused medications as well.

In partnership with the Kandiyohi County Drug-Free Communities Coalition, the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office installed a permanent drop box at the Law Enforcement Center in Willmar. In the six years since, 11,162.5 pounds have been collected, according to the Sheriff's Office. Since Jan. 1 of this year alone, just over 500 pounds of prescription and over-the-counter medications have been brought in by the public for disposal.

"It gets used a pretty fair amount," Hartog said.

No particular class of drug stands out, he said. "It's a whole range."

Kandiyohi County's prescription drop box is available to the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Listings and a map of drop boxes across the state can be found at earth911.com under the "recycle search" tab. At last count, about 240 permanent drop sites are in operation across Minnesota.

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