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A demonstration is done at the King Kullen in Patchogue, showing how to use the drug take-back drop box. Photo from Adrianne Esposito

By Kevin Redding

With the recent launch of the first statewide pharmaceutical take-back initiative, New York residents are encouraged to be more careful, and environmentally friendly, when it comes to getting rid of their old and unwanted medications.

On Dec. 28, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced that 80 retail pharmacies, hospitals and long-term care facilities across the state  will be the first to participate in its $2 million pilot pharmaceutical take-back program, and encouraged more to get on board.

This program allows residents to safely dispose any unused and potentially harmful pills into a drop box at these locations beginning in April, when the boxes are slated for installation.

Once collected, the drugs will be weighed, tracked and incinerated.

The free, volunteer public service, funded by the state Environmental Protection Fund, is modeled after a successful safe disposal program started at King Kullen in 2014 — which, in the past three years, has safely disposed more than 7,600 pounds of pharmaceutical drugs — and aims to improve the region’s drinking water, which has become increasingly contaminated by people flushing medications down the toilet and pouring them down the sink.

Flushed pharmaceutical drugs have been found in state lakes, rivers and streams, negatively affecting the waterways and the wildlife that inhabit them.

Roughly 40 percent of groundwater samples have trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs, with the most common being antibiotics and anticonvulsants, according to Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens
Campaign for the Environment.

“Prescription drugs should come from our pharmacists — not from our faucets,” said Esposito, whose Farmingdale-based organization founded the King Kullen program and lobbied the state to provide funding in its budget in 2016 for the DEC to create the pilot program. “Pharmaceutical drugs are considered an ‘emerging contaminant’ in our drinking water and the flushing of unwanted drugs is one contributor to this growing problem. Safe disposal programs [like this] are critical in combating this health risk. The goal really is to provide people with an easy, safe and convenient option to dispose of their drugs. We can get ahead of this problem now rather than wait until it becomes a bigger problem later.”

The pilot program is currently open and is accepting applications, according to the DEC website, which also outlines that the $2 million  will be used to cover the full cost of purchasing U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-compliant medication drop boxes, as well as the cost of pickup, transport and destruction of collected waste pharmaceuticals for a two-year period.

Esposito said the program also serves to prevent accidental exposure or intentional misuse of prescription drugs.

“This is a service that all pharmacies should be providing their customers,” she said. “Not only does it protect the environment, it will keep drugs out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

While there aren’t many participants so far in Suffolk  — among six volunteers are Huntington’s Country Village Chemists, St. James Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center and Stony Brook Student Health Services — many local pharmacy owners said they were interested in enrolling, while others have already been offering something similar.

At Heritage Chemists Pharmacy & Boutique in Mount Sinai, owner Frank Bosio said he offered a take-back box for more than two years, but funding ended.

“It was a great program and the community loved it,” said Bosio with interest in enrolling in the new pilot program. “I definitely want to get on board with this.”

Manager of Echo Pharmacy in Miller Place, Beth Mango, said her store has a disposal box system in place that complies with Drug Enforcement Administration requirements.

“We had a lot of customers asking us what they could do with their old medications,” Mango said. “We wanted to do something for the community. We’re trying to save our Earth for our children and for future generations — this is one way we know is safe.”

Esposito made clear that most disposal systems outside of the launched program aren’t authorized by the DEC or other agencies, and hopes the list for this particular effort will grow.

Retail pharmacies, hospitals and long-term care facilities can enroll to participate in the pilot pharmaceutical take-back program on the DEC’s website at www.dec.ny.gov/.

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, works at one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program to give low to no cost Narcan to those with prescription health insurance coverage. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

The opioid crisis on Long Island has left devastation in its wake, and as opioid-related deaths rise every year, New York State has created an additional, more affordable way to combat it. To deal with the rash of overdoses as a result of addiction, New York State made it easier for people with prescription insurance to afford Naloxone, a common overdose reversal medication.

On Aug. 7, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced starting Aug. 9 that people with prescription health insurance coverage would be able to receive Naloxone, which is commonly referred to as Narcan, for a copay of up to $40. New York is the first state to offer the drug for such a low cost in pharmacies.

Narcan kit are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“The vast majority of folks who have health insurance with prescription coverage will be able to receive Naloxone through this program for free,” said Ben Rosen, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health.

Before the change, the average shelf cost of Narcan, which is administered nasally, was $125 without prescription with an average national copay of $10. People on Medicaid and Medicare paid between $1 and $3, Rosen said.

This action on part of the state comes at a critical time. Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. On Aug. 10, President Donald Trump (R) declared the opioid issue a national emergency, meaning that there is now more pressure on Congress to pass legislation to deal with the crisis, as well as a push to supply more funds to states, police departments and health services to help deal with the problem.

The drug is available in over 3,000 pharmacies across New York and well over 100 pharmacies in Suffolk County. This includes all major pharmacies like CVS Health, Walgreens and Rite Aid, but also includes a few local pharmacies that already participate in the state Aids Drug Assistance Program and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage and Medicaid, according to Kathy Febraio, the executive director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, a not-for-profit pharmacists advocacy group.

The program is only available for people who either have Medicare, Medicaid or health insurance with prescription coverage. Otherwise, officials said that those who lack insurance who need access can get it through a number of free Narcan training courses.

“We think that anything that can have an affect on this crisis is a good thing,” Febraio said. “This will certainly help. We need anything that will get Naloxone into the hands of those who need it.”

While Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) likes the idea of additional access to Narcan, he is skeptical about whether those who get it know how to properly administer it.

Narcan kits are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies, like at Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James. Photo by Kyle Barr

“You don’t need a PHD to know how to use it, but there is some training that would help people be more comfortable, such as how to properly use it in an emergency situation and how to store it so that it is accessible while making sure children can’t get their hands on it,” he said. “Unfortunately the epidemic is so wide spread. Everyone knows someone who is affected.”

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program, said though the business has not yet received many calls for Narcan, the state requires pharmacists to demonstrate how to use it.

“You have to counsel the patient and show them how to use it,” she said. “We were showed videos, we were given kits to practice on before we were certified to do it. I feel like it’s a good thing that they’re doing it.”

The county currently provides numerous Narcan training courses for locals, where they receive training and free supplies of the life-saving drug. Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said that she will be co-hosting a free Narcan training course Oct. 5 at Rocky Point High School with support from the North Shore Youth Council.

“They absolutely need to be trained,” she said. “Narcan is almost a miracle drug — it brings people back from death. However, people need to know what they’re doing so that it is administered correctly.”

Check on the New York State Department of Health website’s opioid overdose directories section for a full list of participating pharmacies.

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