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Vashon Islanders empty their medicine cabinets of potentially dangerous medications

Pharmacist Dave Willingham sorts through medications at Operation Medicine Cabinet with King County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Brown. Behind him Gretchen Burkholder of Vashon Youth & Family Services talks with Luke McQuillin as they help with the event. - Tom Hughes Photo
Pharmacist Dave Willingham sorts through medications at Operation Medicine Cabinet with King County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Brown. Behind him Gretchen Burkholder of Vashon Youth & Family Services talks with Luke McQuillin as they help with the event.
— image credit: Tom Hughes Photo

Islanders took advantage of a chance to safely dispose of unused prescription drugs on Saturday outside of Thriftway at an event dubbed Operation Medicine Cabinet.

It was the second such medicine drop on Vashon, aimed at not only helping Islanders clean out their medicine cabinets but also better understand the environmental and social hazards of tossing old pills down the toilet or, worse yet, leaving them in a cabinet where they might tempt a teenager or poison a toddler.

Dozens of Islanders showed up to the event, which was staffed by a pharmacist, a sheriff’s deputy and several volunteers from Vashon Healthy Community Network and the Drug Free Community Coalition.

Islanders brought with them boxes and vials of unwanted medications, and behind every pill was a story — a tale of a broken wrist that hurt so much that Percocet was needed to ease the pain or a trip to the dentist that resulted in a prescription for Tylenol laced with codeine.

Others came laden with decades-old prescriptions that had been cluttering their medicine cabinets for years or medications left behind by ex-housemates and spouses.

According to Dave Willingham, Vashon Pharmacy’s co-owner who helped sort drugs at the event on Saturday, there are many good reasons to bring medications to events such as Operation Medicine Cabinet.

“Most drugs are considered hazardous waste under Washington state law,” he said.

Islander Sarah Day, who has a son who attends Vashon High School, explained why she had turned in her unused medications.

“I know that controlled pain substances have a high street value, and I don’t like having an attractive nuisance in my home,” said Day. “I think all parents should be thinking about this, especially if they have middle-school or high school-aged teens. When you’ve got people walking through your house, you don’t know who’s going to be interested in what.”

Day’s concern makes sense, given the results of a 2006 Heathy Youth Survey, which found that 10.3 percent of Vashon 12th-graders and 11 percent of Vashon 10th-graders had used prescription painkillers recreationally.

Islander seem to be getting the message: The first medicine drop held on Vashon, in April, collected 185 pounds of medications. And despite steady rain, Islanders brought more than 60 pounds of pills to the event on Saturday.

All of that medicine will be safely incinerated by the King County Sheriff’s Department.

Incineration, according to event organizers, is the most ecologically friendly way to dispose of medications, since pills that are flushed down the toilet or thrown in the garbage can wind up in the water supply.

Mary Rabourn, an Islander who works for King County’s local hazardous waste management program, said she believes momentum is building to make events like Operation Medicine Cabinet more frequent throughout the state and the country.

Robourn’s office belongs to a coalition of health organizations, police, drugstores, local governments and environmental groups in Washington state that is pushing for the creation of a state-wide medicine take-back program and that is proposing legislation requiring drug companies to pay the considerable costs of such a program.

“There is a problem and a need,” she said. “These are significant quantities of dangerous wastes.”

For more information about medicine take-back programs and proposed legislation, visit www.takebackyourmeds.org.

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