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Wisconsinites can dispose of unused medication at upcoming Drug Take Back Day

More than 140 events statewide will collect prescription and over-the-counter drugs

Many pill bottles are seen from above.
Tina Pohlman’s medications at her home in La Crosse. Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsinites can drop off unused or expired prescription and over-the-counter medications at more than 140 events statewide Saturday as part of National Drug Take Back Day.

The event aims to provide a safe way to dispose of medicine, while educating the public about the potential for abuse of prescription drugs.

Substance abuse is a serious problem in the state, as provisional data shows 1,410 Wisconsinites died of opioid overdoses last year. The state’s 1,427 opioid overdoses in 2021 set a record high on top of a previous record high of 1,227 deaths in 2020.

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“We believe that prescription drug abuse prevention happens within our own homes and in our own medicine cabinets,” said Kari Foss, chair of the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition.

Foss said overdose deaths in Kenosha County continue to rise. All four drop-off sites in the county will offer the overdose treatment Narcan and training on how to use it, she said.

Wisconsin has had great success on past drug take back days. The event is held twice annually, and Wisconsin collected the most medications of any state on both of the events in the past year.

Since 2010, Wisconsin has collected more than 1 million pounds of unwanted medications, making it third nationally behind California and Texas.

State Attorney General Josh Kaul attributes the success to collaborations between law enforcement and public health agencies. More than 270 law enforcement agencies will participate on Saturday, he said.

“Prescription painkiller abuse can lead to other substance use disorders and other drug addictions,” Kaul told Wisconsin Public Radio. “Whether that’s because one person gives prescription medicine to another or medicines are stolen out of a medicine cabinet, that can lead to abuse.”

Kaul said unwanted medications should also be disposed of safely and not flushed down the toilet.

“Years ago, that’s something that was recommended frequently. But what we’ve learned over time is that when that happens, those medications can end up in the water supply,” he said.

There are many places across the state where unused medication can be dropped off year round. One of the benefits of having a designated day to return the drugs is to also offer other services and break the stigma of seeking help, Foss said.

“We’re ready to have conversations with folks that don’t know where to start for themselves or for their loved ones,” she said.

Many over-the-counter medications can also be disposed of safely at the drop-off sites.

“Ointments, patches, inhalers, non aerosol sprays, dispensers, creams, pet meds, even,” Foss said.

However, no illicit drugs will be accepted.