Webster County Health Unit campaigns for safe drug disposal
By Alyssa Andrews
As of 2020, the #1 leading cause of deaths for ages 18-44 in Missouri is drug overdose. A serious number for a serious and on-going epidemic in the state of Missouri. That statistic is one of hundreds shared on the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services, reaffirming the fact that drugs affect us all. Many of these drug-related deaths include opioid class drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, methadone, morphine, oxytone and many other prescription and non-prescription pain relievers.
To fight this epidemic, the Webster County Health Unit is taking the battle to medicine cabinets, campaigning against the mis-use of prescription drugs. Hanging on to old prescriptions or having easily accessible medications can result in drug abuse, addiction or even death. Studies by the Missouri Department of Health show that nearly 20% of students (6-12 grade) state it is “Very” or “sort of easy” to get prescription drugs that have not been prescribed to them.
The Health Unit recently partnered with the Community Partnership of the Ozarks and received additional drug prevention funding delegated to a local coalition: the Webster County Comm’UNITY’. Louise Bigley, Webster County Health Unit’s Public Health Nurse, states that the Health Unit is working hard to implement three drug-fighting objectives throughout the community. The first objective is working with local law enforcement and community members to place more permanent disposal boxes or drug drop boxes throughout the county.
“We've recently placed a permanent disposal box in both the Seymour police department and in the Fordland Police Department,” explained Bigley. “That actually increases the number of permanent disposal boxes. There's one at the Rogersville pharmacy, and two here at the Webster County Sheriff's Office. This improves access for our community members, so they don't have to drive 20 miles back and forth to dispose of their old medications. In addition to that we've been able to provide our law enforcement… with some disposable pouches.”
The disposal pouches are a new tool that allows for safe at-home disposal and are available to the public through various pharmacies, police stations and at the Health Unit. The packets dissolve leftover pills, patches and liquids neutralizing the substance. The pouches are biodegradable and also meet EPA guidelines. The Health Unit does not recommend flushing unused or old medications down the toilet or holding on to it for safekeeping.
“We do know that people often will flush medications because it's now out of their presence, but it moves into our waterways. That's not always good for the environment. If we can look at a way of disposing of them that's healthier for the environment and secures that so that no one can get to it,” stated Bigley. “Sometimes it is a double edged sword when someone gets ahold of medicine that's really old. Not only is it bad for them because it's not good to take other people's medicine, but it's bad because the medicine breaks-down and changes over time. It can really cause some damage.”
The second objective is educating and empowering community leaders to be a resource to the public.
“We reached out to community partners, law enforcement and trusted leaders who could potentially have a conversation about the proper handling of prescription medication: pharmacists, veterinarian, dentist or funeral home directors,” explained Bigley. “We have even been able to provide them with disposable pouches or alert them to the permanent disposal boxes in their area.”
In addition to those two efforts, the Health Unit's third objective is working to keep the community healthy and provide educational resources throughout the county.
“We're trying to just improve the community; the community's health and reduce misuse. We know that youth sometimes like to experiment and sometimes they can make a poor choice by getting into someone's medication. If that leftover or old medication is just laying around, we can remove it from the environment and properly dispose of it,” explained Bigley. “Then it's less of a temptation or something for them to experiment with. Youth and adults alike, can be facing a mental health crisis and if something is available -like old medication- they may turn to it at a weak moment. They may make a decision that they may not recover from. If we can remove those items and provide a safer environment then it's just healthier for our county as a whole. That's ultimately what we're working on, improving the community's health and reducing the availability of old medications.”
For more information about the proper disposal of prescription medications or need access to the disposal pouches, contact the Webster County Health Unit at 417-859-2532 or visit webstercohealth.com.
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