Keeping Drugs Out Of Our Drinking Water

A new medication disposal box has arrived on the East End.

The Big Red Med Box, of which there are 15 at pharmacies and police stations across Long Island, including nine on the East End, arrived in Montauk this week.

Since the drop-off box’s inception in 2015, Rx Disposal, a division of the not-for-profit Lloyd Magothy Water Trust, Inc., named after two of Long Island’s most prominent aquifers, has collected and incinerated over 9000 pounds of unwanted medications from more than 21 Big Red Med disposal boxes on Long Island, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Kansas.

“Disposing of old, unwanted medications in a responsible manner helps to protect water quality and simultaneously helps to prevent prescription drug abuse,” said the trust’s executive director, Tom McAbee, who moved to Southampton Village in 2013 and had a passion for responsible, free, and convenient disposal of unwanted and expired medications.

“As people learn about the importance of responsible medication disposal, less drugs will be flushed into our drinking water and less leftover medications will be available in household medicine cabinets, which are often the source of prescription drug abuse,” McAbee added.

Southrifty pharmacist Bob Grisnik was the first Drug Enforcement Administration authorized collector in the United States. He too had a passion for protecting Long Island’s groundwater and drinking water. He said he collects 50 pounds of medication every three to four weeks.

“We have quite a bit of activity,” he said. “When you flush your drugs down the toilet, they go into your cesspool and when a cesspool is pumped and that water is taken up to the treatment plant in Riverhead, right on the Peconic River, the drugs never fully leave the water, and they’re put right into the river, which washes out in the bay. It also seeps out of cesspools and into the water aquifer, and that’s stuff we all drink.”

Grisnik said he had someone come in this past month with a bag of unwanted and expired drugs, including vitamins that expired in 1990. Southrifty also has a New York State Department of Health BD Sharps Disposal box, a black box to collect old syringes and needles.

“We don’t want those thrown away either,” he said.

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital funded the Big Red Med Box for the East Hampton Town Police Department sub-station in Montauk. It is now the box farthest east. White’s Apothecary in East Hampton also has one. This is the third box funded by Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.

The East Hampton Town Police Department will take possession of the collected medications, seal them in a special bag, and transport them to the Covanta MacArthur Waste-to-Energy facility in Ronkonkoma, where a “witness burn” is conducted. During a “witness burn,” the police officer documents the incineration of the medications, which is conducted at 1800 degrees until they are reduced to inert ash.

“We are proud to assist in this program,” said Sergeant Kenneth Alversa of the East Hampton Town Police Department. “By providing residents with a safe means of disposing of unused medications that linger in household medicine cabinets, we can help keep old prescriptions out of the hands of small children and teens, while also protecting our water from being contaminated by improper disposal.”

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