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Clearing medicine cabinets helps combat opioid crisis

Students with the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy collected bags full of outdated medication on Saturday as part of National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

AURORA, Colo. — Nothing makes a pharmacy student's day quite like discarding drugs safely.

"This is so much aspirin!" said a surprised Olivia Coffman, grabbing boxes full of expired medication.

She brought them to a table set up outside the Fitzsimmons Building at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus

"Yay!" Coffman said cheerfully, tossing aspirin bottles into a black trash bag.

Minutes later, a car pulled up, and the driver brought over the next load of old and unneeded medication.

“It’s really cool to see it coming in and knowing people aren’t going to be reusing it or like giving it to people off the streets," Coffman said.

Coffman and fellow students from the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy helped collect unwanted medication as part of the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

Drop-off locations were set up all over Colorado on Saturday, including at the Fitzsimmons Building.

“We collect [the medication] here, the police will transport them to some central location, and then they’ll be incinerated in an environmentally safe way," explained Dr. Peter Rice, professor at the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy.

Rice said the event prevents medication from being flushed down the toilet or ending up in a landfill.

“It’s important that people have the right medicines when they need them, but it’s a safety hazard when those medicines are just hanging around the house,” Rice said.

Drug Take Back Day also helps clear medicine cabinets of drugs that are contributing to a crisis. 

“I think there’s a lot more emphasis on getting opioids out of people’s houses so there’s not that risk of overdose within individuals," Rice said.

Rice acknowledged that tossing out unneeded opioids could prevent addiction or even save a life.

“We’re hearing about items on the street that look like brand name drugs or generic drugs, you know, good, manufactured drugs, and yet, they’ll be laced with fentanyl," Rice said.

In 2020, 540 people in Colorado died from fentanyl. Preliminary data from 2021 shows 890 Coloradans died from the drug, an increase of almost 65 percent.

In less than two hours on Saturday, the group outside the Fitzsimmons building collected about 60 pounds of medication.

"Yeah, it just keeps coming," Olivia Coffman said.

No one seemed to appreciate it more than a future pharmacist. 

“That’s awesome that people aren’t throwing those down the drain or like giving them away," Coffman said. "Thank you, people.”

National Drug Take Back Day actually takes place twice each year, in April and October.

During last October's event, 4,276 law enforcement agencies collected 372 tons of medication, according to the DEA.

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