Pharmacy students, VCU Police to host Drug Take Back collection site

Oct. 24 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, an event to raise awareness of prescription misuse and abuse and provide a safe way to dispose of unused or expired medications.

Woman looks at prescription medication in bathroom cabinet. [View Image] National Prescription Drug Take Back Day helps raise awareness of prescription misuse and abuse. (Getty Images)

Communities nationwide will participate in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Oct. 24. Locally, the Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department and the VCU School of Pharmacy chapter of the American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists will host a collection site on the Monroe Park Campus to provide a safe way for students and community members to dispose of unused or expired prescription medications.

The event, which is open to the public, will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Compass outside Cabell Library, 901 Park Ave. in Richmond, and at a second location in the lobby of VCU Police headquarters, 224 E. Broad St. VCU Police headquarters also has a drug take back drop-box inside its front entrance where unused or expired medications can be safely discarded year-round.

Natalia Smith, a second-year Doctor of Pharmacy student and Generation Rx Chair for the student group, talked to VCU News about how people can safely dispose of medications, both at the event and at home. Natalia Smith, a doctoral student in the School of Pharmacy. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing) [View Image]
Natalia Smith, a doctoral student in the School of Pharmacy. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Why are you organizing the Drug Take Back event?

In my board position, my focus is talking about the misuse of prescription medications and we can raise awareness with programs like Drug Take Back events, where we try to educate the public and students about prescription misuse and abuse. Here at VCU, we also hosted training with the [Virginia Department of Health] Medical Reserve Corps, which virtually taught our students about naloxone, an opioid reversal agent. We learned how to look for the signs of an overdose and how to administer naloxone to potentially save lives.

What’s the purpose of the Drug Take Back event?

We try not to have people throw medications away … because they can still be a hazard to someone who might find them if they’re in the trash. This is an event that's in partnership with the VCU Police, which is a requirement because there will be controlled medications. In addition to controlled medications, we're also encouraging people to turn in any unused vape pens or e-cigarettes, which is new this year.

We want to educate the public. So we’ll distribute brochures for people to understand why this is an important event, and how you can safely dispose of medications at home.

We're also distributing naloxone [at the event]. We want to get information out about looking for signs of opioid addiction or signs of overdose and how people can help in those situations.

I would also like to make a plug for Revive Trainings for the public, health care providers, professionals or anyone really. The training teaches how to recognize an opioid overdose and how to safely administer naloxone. This is a free, online course that people can take through the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services website.

What is the connection to the prevalence of pharmaceuticals circulating and opioid addiction?

An event like this is really important, especially now with COVID-19, because there's a lot more social isolation and stress, which can propagate this use and push people to misuse medications to look for relief. The data for July and August is still coming out, but the VCU Medical Center saw a 123% increase in opioid overdoses between March and June this year compared to last year.

There’s been a lot of job loss, financial strain and worry about family members. It's stressful. There have been people in nursing homes who couldn't visit their family and their family couldn't visit them, which of course makes sense, but then it leads to feelings of isolation and fear. These are very uncertain times.

Is there a way to dispose of drugs safely at home for those who cannot attend the Drug Take Back event?

The Food and Drug Administration has a flush list of drugs that have high addictive potential. Authorities would rather you flush and get rid of these drugs versus letting them fall into the wrong hands or someone misusing them.

But if your medication is not on this list, the way they recommend safely disposing of them would be to mix the medication — the pills — with something that's unappealing like cat litter, coffee grinds or dirt. Put the dirt or the litter in a plastic bag with the meds, and then throw it away. You want to make sure that when you do this … you take a marker and cover [your personal information and the medication information on the bottle] before you throw it away, because you never know who might see this. You want to keep your medical information private as well as if you are using a controlled substance.

Is this the only Drug Take Back event?

You can go to the DEA website [or] to look for other collection sites by putting in your ZIP code or address. There are multiple locations around the metro Richmond area. 

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