By Julian Eure, Managing Editor
Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Area residents no longer have to wait for the semi-annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Days to get rid of unused or expired medications lying around the house, in danger of being stolen or misused.
Tarheel Pharmacy in Elizabeth City recently became a permanent drop-off site for unwanted medications. During specified hours Monday through Saturday, anyone can drop off medicines they don’t plan to use at a secure drug disposal box located just inside the pharmacy at 902 Roanoke Avenue.
Kate Ekstrom, a pharmacy technician at Tarheel Pharmacy, said the receptacle resembles a white mail box and operates similar to one. The box’s top drawer opens, allowing a medicine bottle to be dropped inside. Once the drawer is closed, the person disposing of medications no longer has access to them.
“It’s kind of like the mail. You can’t get to it once you drop it off,” Ekstrom said.
Any prescription medicine, including over-the-counter ones, can be disposed of in the box. The only items prohibited from disposal are inhalers, lotions, liquids, aerosol cans, needles and containers of hydrogen peroxide. Schedule I drugs like cocaine also can’t be disposed of in the box.
Once the box is full, two pharmacy employees have to remove and seal up the contents, which are then mailed overnight to Inmar, a Winston-Salem company, for disposal. Inmar is registered with the U.S. Drug Administration’s Diversion Control Division to properly dispose of expired or unused medications.
According to Ekstrom, Tarheel Pharmacy is one of 85 new permanent prescription medicine drop-off sites in North Carolina. The sites were chosen through an initiative started by a partnership that includes Inmar, Durham-based insurance provider Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and Mutual Drug, a Durham-based drug wholesaler catering to independent pharmacies.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, which announced the initiative last October and reportedly is funding its costs for three years, said the 85 new drop-off sites are designed to encourage easier and more convenient disposal of unwanted prescription medicines, particularly in the wake of the growing opioid epidemic, now considered the state’s largest public health crisis.
“Unused and expired medications sitting in the medicine cabinet are an easy-to-overlook threat to family and friends, and disposing of these medications can be complicated,” Dr. Patrick Conway, president and CEO of Blue Cross NC, said in a press release.
Currently law enforcement agencies across the country conduct prescription-medicine collection efforts on the semi-annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Days, the next of which is scheduled for April 27. By creating drop-off sites that are year-round, the initiative’s partners hope to encourage more timely disposal of unwanted prescriptions, many of which can pose dangers the longer they sit around unused.
Conway said the initiative’s partners also hope that by expanding the number of permanent sites — the drop-off boxes will be located in 75 counties — they’ll be able to “reach parts of the state that may not have easy access to medication disposal resources.”
Ekstrom said she and Tarheel Pharmacy pharmacist Mark Copeland came up with the idea of the business hosting one of the new safe medication drop-off boxes. The pharmacy applied for the new initiative through Mutual Drug, its pharmaceutical wholesaler, four to six months ago, and was notified several months ago it had been approved, she said.
Tarheel Pharmacy, the only pharmacy in Pasquotank County chosen for the initiative, wanted to get involved, Ekstrom said, because the business has a number of customers who seek help disposing of unused and unwanted medications.
“We have a lot of customers who themselves or have family members who don’t know what to do with drugs that are either unused or expired,” she said. “We could give them information on how to dispose of them but that was it.”
Tarheel Pharmacy unveiled its drop-off box last Monday, and as of the middle of last week, had had two or three people use it, Ekstrom said. The pharmacy hadn’t had any customer comments on the drop-off box yet, but news it’s hosting one has gotten “a ton of shares” on social media, Ekstrom said.
Unused and unwanted prescription medicines can be disposed of in the drop-off box at Tarheel Pharmacy Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.