Q. Recently, I’ve been prescribed a number of different medications that proved to be ineffective, so I replaced them, which left me with a three-month supply of the “unsuccessful” ones that now need proper, safe disposal. I discussed my concern with my state legislators, hoping they would introduce legislation to ensure that free, convenient collection sites would be available, so people would not discard the medications by flushing them down the toilet. Sadly, my concerns were not answered on the statewide level, but my county stepped up and took action by requiring pharmacies and police stations to host medication drop-off boxes. But what good are these programs if they are generally unknown or not available everywhere?
Additionally, because I have been disabled for over 30 years, I have accumulated outdated wheelchairs, an old Hoyer lift and a variety of unneeded medical supplies. The chairs need fresh batteries and everything needs cleaning up, but there are probably people somewhere in the world who could benefit from having access to them. A nearby Center for Independent Living used to accept these, but they ran out of space. Are there other avenues that I might investigate?
— Cleaning house
A. The federal Drug Disposal Act requires the Drug Enforcement Administration to promote two National Drug Take Back Days each year. That program, in coordination with law enforcement agencies nationwide, has been expanded in many locales. Many states, counties and cities now require deposit boxes at selected pharmacies and other convenient locations so that unknown, partially used or unneeded medications can be dropped off anonymously. The program keeps such drugs off the street and out of the reach of children or people who use them illegally.
Many communities periodically host a general recycling program, so check public announcements that may identify participating pharmacies or other medication drop-off locations. The location of your nearest medication disposal drop box is available at the website listed in resources below. If that doesn’t identify a location close to you, your local pharmacist may know of other programs or may allow you to return all types of medications to them, including those that were purchased from other outlets.
Surplus power or manual wheelchairs, durable medical equipment and supplies can be collected, refurbished and shipped to developing countries where they are not readily available. Global Mobility USA, Whirlwind Wheelchairs, UCP Wheels for Humanity, Wheels for the World, Hope Haven International and several other organizations have been delivering those items in partnership with local groups for years. Some nonprofits have determined that it is often more cost-effective and quicker to provide new equipment rather collect and repair items that might have been “retired” in the United States. In some cases, these charities have established facilities in those other countries so that local residents can manufacture or assemble their own wheelchairs in the future.
There are also organizations that collect, refurbish and distribute used equipment solely within our borders. United Spinal and the Wheelchair Foundation identify many of them in listings on their websites. Some organizations serve a designated geographical region. American Outreach Foundation serves California’s Coachella Valley, and the Triumph Foundation facilitates equipment exchange between consumers in the Los Angeles area.
As for power mobility devices, some of the charitable organizations are refocusing their efforts on donations of manual equipment. Repairing outdated power wheelchairs requires extensive inventories of parts that may not be available from manufacturers years after they were made. Complex wheelchairs and large batteries may be difficult to import into a country that is not accustomed to widespread use of such devices. Many power wheelchairs have also proven to be less durable in developing countries where there may be fewer paved roads, sidewalks and flat surfaces. Finally, there may also be problems when recipients need to replace batteries, both because of unavailability where they live and the high price overall.
Surplus wheelchairs or other medical equipment that can be repaired with minimal effort should not be sent to a landfill. Check with the nonprofits listed in resources or a local organization, like one of the Muscular Dystrophy Association loaner closets, to see if they accept such items. Someone, somewhere may be able to make use of it.
• Medication disposal locator: disposemymeds.org/medicine-disposal-locator/
• United Spinal: www.unitedspinal.org/resource-center/askus/?pg=kb.chapter&id=99
• Wheelchair Foundation: www.wheelchairfoundation.org/programs/more-organizations
• American Outreach Foundation: americanoutreachfoundation.com