Got drugs?

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What am I supposed to do with the two vials of opioids that I have leftover since my knee replacement surgery? While I was considering this, I went through my medicine collection and found some bottles of pills that have expired long ago. I also came across a ziplock bag filled with old pills from when we cleaned out my uncle’s house five years ago.

One thing I know I shouldn’t do: flush them down the drain. The threat to our water supply is bad enough without our adding all manner of drugs to the waste stream. It’s not a good idea to just throw them out in the garbage either as accidental discovery by pets or people could be fatal.

As odd as it sounds, I’ll be bringing my unused drugs to Wisdom Lane Middle School in Levittown and I invite you to do the same. No, not while school is in session but on Saturday, October 27th from 10am to 1pm when the Levittown Community Coalition is sponsoring a drug take-back day. The program is anonymous so please remove any labels from pill bottles. Liquid medications are not accepted.

To dispose of liquid medications, pour some used coffee grounds, sawdust, kitty litter or even dirt into a ziplock bag and then pour the liquid medication into the bag to be absorbed by the dry material. Then dispose of the bag in the garbage.

You might wonder why I have leftover opioids. We are so used to finishing a prescription, as directed by our doctors. And if we are prescribed an antibiotic it is essential that we finish the course of treatment, even if we feel better after a day or so. If treatment stops too soon, the drug may not kill all the bacteria. People could become sick again, and the remaining bacteria may become resistant to that antibiotic. But it’s different with pain killers.

These drugs are only to be taken for actual pain management and when the pain is gone, the rest of the medication should be disposed of. Keeping them around is dangerous on any number of levels. First, there might be a temptation to take “just one” to get through an emotionally difficult day. This kind of self-medicated pain relief quickly leads to further use and an addiction to these drugs. It’s the slippery slope to a ruined life, or even death. At Saint Bernard’s alone we’ve buried around five adults a year due to drug overdoses (most were parents) and the vast majority of the addictions that lead to death started with pain killer prescriptions.

Second, keeping these drugs at home make them available to others who we live with or who visit our homes. Some young people troll their grandparents’ medicine cabinets to bring pills to parties. Keep all drugs in a secure location and be sure to dispose of medications not needed any more.

Finally, expired drugs are ineffective, or worse, dangerous to our bodies. While we know how to recognize moldy bread or rotten cold cuts, we don’t know how to recognize spoiled medications. They do have a shelf life. It’s safer to dispose of expired drugs.

As a priest I’m committed to helping us live in the safest community possible so I’m fervent about this simple task in the weeks ahead: seek out expired, unused and dangerous medications and bring them to the take-back day on October 27th. If you’re unable to do so on that day, know that every police station has a drug drop-off station. These are also anonymous.

Let’s stay well and safe out there.

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Pastor of St. Bernard's since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.

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