MARQUETTE - Thanks to a combination of local high school students and teachers, the Marquette County Health Department and a passionate Illinois teacher, area residents will soon have a full-time pharmaceutical drop-off network available for them to properly dispose of unwanted medications in their homes.
"I've been kind of hooked into water studies and environmental education for a long time," said Karen Bacula, an environmental biology teacher at Marquette Senior High School. "I started reading about and hearing about medications in water and what various communities are doing about it, and I thought, why can't we do something up here?"
While researching possible solutions, Bacula said she found P2D2, or Proper Prescription Drug Disposal, a program that has garnered national and worldwide attention for its good practices.
These file photos show unwanted pharmaceuticals being dropped off during an earlier collection in Marquette County. A new program will be launched Monday in which people can dispose of their unwanted drugs in collection bins set up at the Marquette and Ishpeming city police departments. (Journal file photos)
Paul Ritter, an environmental science teacher from Pontiac, Ill., and his students started the program as a class project, seeking to find a way to dispose of medications that would keep them out of the local water system.
"We were establishing a program for our little county in Illinois. We were trying to do our part locally," Ritter said, but once the program was up and running, he began receiving phone calls from people across the country. "Not realizing what we had done, we had just done up the ground work for the nation's largest pharmaceutical disposal network."
The program is simple at its core: Work with local agencies to help devise a system that allows community members to take their unwanted prescriptions or over-the-counter mediations to a drop-off location and then ensure the drugs are taken to a waste-to-energy plant and properly disposed of.
And, of course, Ritter said every program must involve local youths.
"I love it when people tell me kids are not like they used to be. They're not. In fact, given the opportunity, they can be so many more things than I ever thought possible," Ritter said. "They're leading the community in political change. That's the meaning, and one of the most inspiring things I get to be a part of, watching kids educate their community and solve a problem that was previously thought unsolvable."
The program has been making its way around the country, with smaller communities, such as Marquette, able to contact Ritter for help in some key organizational aspects of setting up the drop-off network.
Bacula contacted Ritter two years ago and the project will finally kick off Monday, with receptacles set up in the Marquette and Ishpeming city police departments.
Students from Bacula's environmental science club and environmental biology classes, as well as students from Westwood High School's ACTion Troupe, were helped by the Marquette County Health Department in setting up the program.
Sarah Derwin, health educator for the health department, said the take-back is something the health department has always wanted to implement full time, adding that not only does it help the environment, but it can reduce the potential for drug abuse as less and less unwanted medications are left sitting in homes around the area.
"It's kind of a two-pronged idea. We call it a social and environmental program," Derwin said. "The social part is getting all of those medications out of cabinets. ... This is also a great way to keep Marquette County greener."
With the Marquette City Police Department collecting a record 168 pounds of unwanted prescription medication during its annual participation in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day in late April, it seems there will be no shortage of local community members taking advantage of the now full-time program.
Bins similar to the blue letter drop-boxes used by the U.S. Postal Service will be available inside the Marquette and Ishpeming city police departments starting Monday. All medication drop-off will be anonymous.
People wishing to use the service are asked to take their pills or capsules out of their bottles and put them into a baggy before dropping them into the bin. The contents of the baggy should be written on the bag. One bag can contain more than one type of medication. Baggies and markers will be available at the drop-off bins.
Syringes, needles and any type of liquid medication will not be accepted.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.