More than 126 pounds of expired drugs and at least seven pounds of controlled substances were collected last week from senior Oakland residents during the Healthy Living Festival, an annual festival hosted by the United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County (USOAC).
The coalition of Oakland residents hosted the day-long festival at the Oakland Zoo on July 19, which included healthy-related events like yoga sessions and dancing. The drug collection was meant to help people get rid of drugs that are no longer effective or needed, or could pose a health risk if taken by the wrong person or an environmental risk if improperly discarded.
According to organizers and pharmacists who provided assistance with the collection of the drugs, most of the drugs collected were over-the-counter (OTC) medications and controlled narcotics like oxycodone. “This year, we saw more of the OTC, vitamins, calcium, herbal supplements being dropped off,” said Eva Tanaka, a retired pharmacist who helped with the drug collection. “Having participated in this capacity for the past three years, we see differences each year. I feel that the service is extremely valuable in that it helps the seniors clean out and discard the medications that they are no longer using. This helps them to avoid confusion with their medication regiments.”
Tanaka said the collection of expired drugs from seniors also showed that a lot of the drugs that health insurance institutions pay for are wasted. “The only down side is that we see how much medication is discarded and the inherent initial cost, which is borne usually by either the insurance companies or the programs such as Medi-Cal,” she said.
Kamika Dunlap, a policy assistant in the County Supervisor’s office, confirmed that the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office had taken the controlled substances received during the drug collection, some of which have a high street value. Dunlap said the drugs would be incinerated to avoid pollution and the possible contamination of water sources that results from the dumping of medical waste and drugs.
In a press release, Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, who is the founder and president of USOAC, said the initiative was an important part of public healthcare management that the county has had to begin at a community level. “The public has said that medication collection and finding something that works is paramount to everyone,” stated Miley. “The federal and state governments have failed to act and that’s why this grassroots effort is happening here at the county level.”
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors last Tuesday voted unanimously to pass the Safe Medication Disposal Ordinance, which holds prescription drug manufacturers responsible for collecting and safely discarding prescription drugs through medication take-back programs and for bearing the cost of collection and disposal for unused and expired medications.
In a letter to the board before the passing of the ordinance, Miley wrote that drug poisoning is the fastest rising cause of accidental death among older adults, particularly from overdoses of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. He called for manufacturers of prescription drugs involved in the management of unused and expired drugs.
“It is common in other industries that manufacturers take a leading role in encouraging the recycling of items that consumers no longer need, in the same way that electronics manufacturers provide incentives for users to recycle unused cell phones, computers and appliances,” said Claudia Smith, an environmentalist who attended the Healthy Living Festival. “But no one has asked drug manufacturers to do the same.”
Smith said as a result, discarded drugs and drug packaging often end up as a cause of pollution in public water systems, landfills and recycling containers. “It’s about time we started doing something about it,” Smith said as she deposited a packages of drugs collected from friends.
According to the Alameda County Public Health Department, the number of drug poisoning cases resulting in hospitalization among people over the age of 60 in Alameda County has increased by 43 percent between 1998 and 2006.