I’m not sure how much attention local media have given this (not much that I can tell), but it’s news worth sharing. Local residents – and those living in several other Alaska communities – are encouraged to bring unwanted and/or expired medications to specified drop-off sites this Saturday (Sept. 25) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., for safe disposal. The event’s sponsors – the Alaska Center for the Environment (ACE) and the Alaska Safe Medicine Alliance (ASMA) – note that both prescription and over-the-counter medications will be accepted and that the collection of the drugs is both free and anonymous.
The local “Pharmaceutical Disposal Day” events are being promoted as a way to help keep potentially dangerous chemicals out of landfills and local waterways. A FAQ sheet put out by ASMA explains why flushing medications down the toilet or throwing them out in the trash are not good choices: “The technology currently used at the AAWU (Anchorage Wastewater Utility) and other water treatment utilities does not allow for the removal of pcps (medications and other personal care products) and therefore flushing meds results in the chemicals being dumped into Cook Inlet and back into our drinking water, as well as harming the aquatic life.” I would add that there’s growing concern that “pcps” and other chemicals dumped into Cook Inlet could be among the factors contributing to the decline of the inlet’s beluga whales. This is one easy way to keep at least some chemicals from entering the inlet and potentially harming whales and perhaps other life forms. As for landfills: there is always the possibility of seepage, which could contaminate local groundwater and creeks.
The FAQ sheet also explains exactly what will and will not be accepted at the Alaska drop-off sites: “Please no sharps [for instance needles], except for the Mat-Su location. However, all other medications can be brought in for disposal, including pet medicines and non-prescription or over-the-counter medications.” Once collected, the meds will be taken to EPA approved incinerators for “safe destruction.”
The sponsors emphasize that “illicit drugs” will NOT be collected for disposal and instead “will be treated by law enforcement as they are always treated.” Which brings me to an interesting point. The local event is part of a nationwide effort called the National Take-Back Initiative, organized by the U.S Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The national effort seems to put a greater emphasis on crime and drug-abuse prevention, namely that the drugs being collected “are a potential source of supply for illegal use and an unacceptable risk to public health and safety.” Furthermore, “This one-day effort is intended to bring national focus to the issue of increasing pharmaceutical controlled substance abuse.”
Given the deep-seated paranoia that many Alaskans have toward the federal government, I must re-emphasize that the local events are focused on cleaner, healthier waterways and watersheds, though it seems the effort to reduce crime should also applauded. The Alaska sponsors also stress that all personal information will be kept confidential, though concerned individuals can, if they wish, black out, block out, or otherwise remove any “personal identifiers.” The purpose, again, is not to gather information on participants, but to “collect as many medications as possible for safe destruction and keep these drugs out of our water, and out of the hands of drug seekers, and reduce medication complications in the home.” These are all good things.
Anchorage collection spots include the Northern Lights, Abbott, and Debarr Fred Meyer parking lots and the Alaska Native Medical Center, while the Mat-Su site is the Wasilla Fred Meyer. Other participating cities include Soldotna, Kenai, Fairbanks, and Juneau.
In addition to Saturday’s events, the ASMA hopes to stage similar take-back events every six months. And for those, like me, wondering what exactly the ASMA is, its FAQ sheet notes the alliance “is made up of several city, borough, and state agencies, businesses, non-profits, and government entities.” That’s still pretty vague. But the fact that the Alaska Center for the Environment is a co-sponsor eases my own concerns; like the folks at ACE, I wish to keep local waters as free of chemical contaminants as possible.