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The next national drug take back day is April 29 this year, but there’s no need to wait.

You can take back medicines any day to most pharmacies in Lincoln.

Diane Webb cleaned out her mother’s drugs, after she passed away last year, everything from prescriptions to old Neosporin. 

She put everything in plastic bags and dropped them off at the O Street Hy-Vee.

What started as a pilot program in Lincoln in 2012 has grown into a statewide program with more than 300 pharmacies helping collect drugs, everything from outdated aspirin to waiting-to-be stolen oxycodan.  

People are encouraged to get rid of leftover medication because it might get into the wrong hands -- accidentally taken by children, or stolen by others.

Webb, who works for the Nebraska Pharmacists Association, has seen the evolution of the program and the growing awareness of disposing of medicines safely.

It's not just prescriptions, she said. "It's the Advil and the eye drops that have expired."

Last year pharmacies across the state collected almost 20,000 pounds of no longer needed and unwanted medications that people brought in from their homes. That’s a half-dozen mid-sized elephants worth of drugs.

About two-thirds of pharmacies -- 45 of 60 -- in Lancaster County are participating in the collection program.

The association is always adding pharmacies to the program, said Marcia Mueting, with the Nebraska Pharmacists Association, which coordinates the efforts.

“Many pharmacies are figuring out this isn’t hard to do, and patients are asking for it,” she said.

You can access a list of participating pharmacies online at

These include most CVS, Walgreens and Shopko pharmacies and all Hy-Vee, Russ’s and Super Saver pharmacies.

And disposal is getting simpler.

At most pharmacies customer bring in their medications and the pharmacist separates the nonaddictive drugs, like Tylenol and vitamins, from the controlled substances, generally medications considered addictive and more likely to be stolen.

Nonaddictive drugs are put in a box, and are eventually sent to be incinerated. 

Controlled substances are put in a special envelope, found at the pharmacy counter, and the individual mails them to a hazardous waste disposal site in Texas.

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But four Lincoln pharmacies now collect all medicines in a special blue locked box, bolted down so no one can steal it from the store.

“It’s locked up like Fort Knox,” said Gary Rihanek, pharmacist at Kohll’s Wagey Drugs, 800 N. 27th St.

When the box is full, the pharmacy staff seal and mail the drugs to the disposal site in Texas, where they are incinerated.

Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States. And a grandparent’s medication is involved in 38 percent of child poisoning cases, according to the Nebraska Pharmacists Association.

Until a few years ago, people were encouraged to flush unwanted drugs, but most city treatment systems do not remove the drugs from the water and they end up polluting streams and rivers, based on federal studies.

Then people were encouraged to put medicine in the trash -- in coffee grounds, sawdust, kitty litter, so they wouldn’t be attractive to thieves, said Mueting.

But the drugs could still leach into water.

So the most environmentally safe way to get rid of medicine is incineration in a hazardous waste incinerator. That is the gold standard, said Mueting. 

The $400,000 annual cost for the boxes, incineration, marketing and coordination in the state is funded through a Nebraska Environmental Trust grant and a legislative appropriation.

The most likely time for people to get rid of medicine is when someone in the family dies, said Rihanek. But more people are getting in the habit of routinely getting rid of old stuff, he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.



Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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