South Charlotte

Dispose of old medication the right way

If you were to spot someone dumping the contents of her medicine cabinet in a river, you'd no doubt try to stop the littering.

But if you saw that same person dumping the contents of her medicine cabinet into her toilet, especially if she was doing so in an attempt to purge her medicine cabinet of anything that could pose a risk to her children, you might conclude that what she does in the privacy of her own home is her business.

It turns out that both acts pose the same environmental harm and Operation Medicine Cabinet, an integrated community-based program, seeks to get the word out about that.

Awarded $85,000 over three years as the winner of the Women's Impact Fund Environment Grant, OMC coordinates a series of "take-back" pharmaceutical events "to raise awareness about the damage caused by drugs discharged into waterways while educating the community about proper disposal practices."

"Keeping drugs off the streets and out of the streams has us partnering with a broad range of groups who would probably never work together otherwise," said Dean Navjoks, 42, the executive director of Yadkin Riverkeeper

Law enforcement agencies and Safe Kids North Carolina have taken on the education component, working with the media to raise public awareness about what a threat this is to both to children's health and to the environment.

"Accidental poisoning is second only to car crashes in cause of deaths to young children," said Navjoks.

Equally irrefutable is what these contaminants are doing to the environment once they end up in our waterways.

"The U.S. Geological Survey tested rivers all across the county, and 80 percent of the waterways were found to have problems," Navjoks said.

Some of the biggest impact on aquatic life was found in the Yadkin River basin, which overlaps a third of Mecklenburg County.

Educating the community about proper disposal of unwanted or expired medicine is only part of the solution.

OMC also seeks to provide citizens with a means of properly disposing of pharmaceutical waste by organizing bi-annual take back events at six sites in and around Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

The Drug Enforcement Agency, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the Charlotte Fire Department supervise the drug collections and incineration. A recent Charlotte event, sponsored by OMC partner organizations focused on poison prevention, collected approximately 150,000 doses of medicine from 267 visitors.

Yadkin Riverkeeper plans to use the grant money to pay for a full-time employee to run the OMC program.

Additional funds will pay a small partnering fee to Carolina's Medical Center to assist with site coordination and minimal office rental fee for the OMC project coordinator.

They also hope to expand both the number and the frequency of drop off locations and to continue to build community partnerships and to get the word out about this important environmental concern.