About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Unused pills? Bury them in a coffin of coffee grounds

To dispose, mix with coffee grounds.

One of my colleagues called from home yesterday to ask about her old prescriptions. She said her medicine cabinet was filled with containers of unused medicines, some of them years old. “How do I get rid of them?” she asked. “Do I flush them down the toilet?”

I didn’t know what to tell her. I thought first of the “take-back” programs that local groups sometimes sponsor, where you drop off expired or used medicines for proper disposal. Other than that, I didn’t know what to say.

This morning I called the nurse line sponsored by United HealthCare, our health insurer here at The Free Lance-Star. The registered nurse there said that the solution is a simple one.

“Are you a coffee drinker?” she asked.

She recommended that I mix unwanted pills with coffee grounds and place them in the household trash.

“They used to tell you to flush them,” she said. “Now, they don’t want you to do that. What they found was that they were seeing trace amounts of the medication in the water supply.”

She said it’s preferable to send unwanted pills to the landfill. And the coffee grounds? They’re there as a spoiler, to prevent someone else from using the medicine.

A postscript: As soon as she read this post today, Jennifer Reynolds called to suggest Operation Medicine Cabinet as a better alternative than coffee grounds.

Reynolds works at Mary Washington Healthcare and is president of Partners in Aging, a group of local organizations that provides resources for seniors and their families. Twice each year the organization sponsors take-back programs for unused medications and sharps. Their next collection will be Saturday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at three area locations. The flier is here.

The group has collected more than 1,000 pounds of medicine at previous events. The material is incinerated in a closed system, Reynolds said.

“The important thing for people to know is that you just drive up and drop off,” she said. “There’s no questions asked. We don’t even look at it. We just put it in a bucket.”