“Taking back” Wisconsin’s unused medications

Saturday marked drug "take back" day
“Taking back” Wisconsin’s unused medications

There’s a nationwide push to get old prescription drugs out of the home, and pharmacists and police are teaming up in Wisconsin to do the same.

Saturday marked Drug “Take Back” Day, and The Medicine Shoppe in Monona opened its doors to people wanting to get rid of their unused medications the right way.

“Every time we do it, we get at least two cardboard boxes full of loose medications that are basically taken off the streets, out of people’s homes,” pharmacy manager Eric Hewitt said.

On top of organizing the set up of those collections, Hewitt said the store participates in a program that reaches out to students, parents, and the community’s elderly to educate them about the dangers of prescription drug use.


“It may start with a prescription medication,” Hewitt explained. “Not only might you become addicted to that medication, but then it can go to more illicit street drugs.”

Hewitt would like to see more people take advantage of the drug drop-off events, but said it’s tough for a business to front the money to market something with no profitable return.

“We do what we can to get word of mouth,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt also referred to a number of recent studies that show the conventional method of flushing drugs down the toilet can contaminate the environment. He said traces of those medications have also been found in drinking water.

Monona Police officer Adam Nachreiner stood by as people dumped out pills and tossed bottles. Law enforcement is required to be at this kind of event, and is charged with taking care of the drugs once collection wraps up.

“High school kids to college are abusing more and more,” officer Nachreiner said.

Nachreiner said the way those students are getting high makes it even more dangerous.

“There’s a lot of what they call ‘pharm parties’ now where they get pharmaceutical pills and throw them into a bowl. You see this at high school, college parties,” Nachreiner said. “That’s what they’re starting to trend to. And they don’t even know what they’re taking.”

The Wisconsin State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse put out a report earlier this year which criticized the inconsistencies in accessible medication disposal across the state. The report cited some communities with drop boxes, others with annual or bi-annual events, and others with mail-back programs. It goes on to recommend a “coordinated statewide system” for drug disposal as a part of a more large-scale set of suggestions.

Hewitt puts at least part of the blame on doctors, who he said often prescribe much more of a medicine than a patient actually needs.

“People don’t want to go back to the pharmacy to pay another co-pay, so the doctors are more likely to maybe prescribe a few more pills so they don’t have to go,” Hewitt noted.

Hewitt also notices people keeping old, sometimes expired medications around the house in case they may need it in the future. He said that is a bad idea.

“The best thing you can do is just get it out of your homes,” Hewitt explained. “Self-prescribing, self-diagnosing is not a practice that we, you know, recommend or suggest is a good idea. And so, taking these medications out of the homes avoids the potential for doing that.”

According to Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported 18.7 tons of prescription medications across Wisconsin for the last “Take Back” Day in April. That made Wisconsin the third largest contributor of unused drugs in the country.