FORT KENT, Maine — The safe disposal of out-of-date or unneeded prescription drugs is becoming increasingly an environmental issue.

“When people dump their old pills down the sink or in the toilet they can end up in the water, and then we are drinking it,” Michele Soucy, a first-year nursing student at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, said. “If they are tossed in the trash they end up in the landfill where birds or other animals could eat them.”

Soucy was among members of the UMFK Student Nurses Organization who sponsored a booth as part of the university’s observance of Earth Day on Thursday that offered a prescription drug disposal site.

“We put together this booth to offer a way for people to come in and get rid of any old medications,” Soucy said. “Some of [the medications] are old and expired, and this is a good way to get rid of them.”

On hand to formally accept and take possession of the old medications was Richard Martin, an officer with the Fort Kent Police Department.

“We are getting quite a few people who come in to the Police Department to drop drugs off,” Martin said. “It’s getting known around the community that we are accepting the old or unneeded medications.”

Martin said the medications are secured and then transported to the Caribou Police Department where they are counted, cataloged and safely disposed of in a sanctioned incinerator.

“We wanted to make people aware the careless or improper disposal of old medications is really a problem,” said Nicole Marquis, chair of the SNO project. “People, especially the elderly, tend to collect their medications at home, and those drugs can get mixed up, end up in the hands of young visitors or even stolen.”

Proper disposal of the medications, Marquis said, minimizes accidental overdoses or poisoning, limits illegal diversion of prescription drugs, decreases opportunities for drug abuse and prevents environmental exposure.

Marquis said her nursing group wanted to create an awareness in the UMFK and Fort Kent community that there are safe alternatives to storing old or unused medications in the home.

The University of Maine Center on Aging sponsors the Safe Medicine Disposal for Maine and supplies prepaid envelopes through pharmacies around the state.

Once filled, the envelopes end up at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency where they are safely destroyed.

Area residents are encouraged to take any out-of-date or unneeded medications to the Police Department or to contact the Safe Medicine Disposal for ME website at to find a participating pharmacy.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.