The program is the brainchild of Ed Gottlieb, industrial pretreatment coordinator at the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility. Gottlieb says he read about strange effects like male fish becoming feminized and beginning to produce eggs.
"I was reading literature about contaminants and pharmaceuticals are a major imerging contaminant," he says. "We're not required to do anything about it. It's not regulated, but it was clear it is an issue, and I thought 'what can we do?'"
He learned about a a successful program in Monroe County, did research, formed a coalition, and got funding. That led to the first event at which residents could drop off their unused medicines. It was a huge success. Two and a half tons of pharmaceuticals have been collected so far in five events. The events took place every six months with the main drop-off point at the TCAT bus garage and different satellite sites for each event including the Lansing Town Hall at an event last October.
'Med Return' is one of the first such programs in the state. CSMD held the national record for the most poundage collected in one day in one place, which was only recently broken by another community.
"We literally held a record for many years," he says. "It was clear there was a need for more. Participation is going up. Our survey of participants show that most of them hadn't been to a previous event. This is an ongoing need. We wanted to make it more accessible, and the drop boxes were a logical next step."
Gottlieb said Village of Dryden Police Chief Margaret Ryan made it possible for more local law enforcement agencies to have drop boxes by urging the New York State accreditation agency to clarify its rules so that accredited police agencies could participate in pharmaceutical collection programs. He noted that her efforts will make it easier for communities across New York to conduct medication take-back programs.
The first drop box is available now at the Tompkins County Public Safety Building that houses the Sheriff's Office and County Jail (779 Warren Road, Lansing). Over the next several weeks boxes will be installed at the Ithaca Police Department (120 E. Clinton St., Ithaca), Tompkins County Probation Department, Human Services Building (320 W. MLK/State St., Ithaca), Cayuga Heights Police Department (876 Hanshaw Rd., Ithaca), Groton Police Department (108 E. Cortland St., Groton), Trumansburg Police Department (5 Elm St., Trumansburg), Cornell University Police Department (G2 Barton Hall), Dryden Police Department (16 South St., Dryden), and the Tompkins Cortland Community College Campus Police (170 North St., Dryden).
Tompkins County Legislature Chair Martha Robertson noted that over the counter drugs and pet medications should be dropped off in addition to prescription drugs. She brought a bag of unused medication, and was the first to drop medications in the first box. But she wasn't the only one -- a few people had heard about the program and showed up to drop off their own drugs.
CSMD has also purchased a large storage container, purchased with funds from the Community Coalition for Healthy Youth. Drugs from individual drop boxes will be brought to this central container, that will be periodically brought to a special incinerator near Rochester for safe incineration. Dropboxes can olny be located at police stations, and a chain of custody must be maintained for the drugs collected. They are escorted to the disposal site by Sheriff's Deputies.
The Coalition will continue sponsor collection events around the county. The next event is set for Saturday, September 29, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the TCAT garage in Ithaca, and in Enfield and Slaterville.