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Milwaukee County's 'Take Back My Meds' Initiative Offers Year-Round Drug Disposal Options

Teran Powell
Hayat Pharmacy at 1919 West North Avenue is one of 76 drop-off locations in Milwaukee County for people to dispose of unwanted medication.

National Drug Take Back Day has passed, but you can still dispose of your old, unused medication whenever you want in Milwaukee County.

Advocates for ending the opioid crisis in Milwaukee County are ensuring people that they don’t have to solely rely on drug take back events once or twice a year to get rid of their unwanted medications.

Take Back My Meds MKE is the program making that possible.

Michelle Jaskulski is one advocate helping to get the word out about the initiative. Two of her four children suffered from drug addiction for about six years.

Like most people, she says, their addictions began with prescribed medication, but they soon found other sources – like other people’s easily accessible, unused medication.

While both of Jaskulski’s sons are now in one year of recovery, she described what it was like for her during their struggles. She says it was very long journey.

“When I first found out I felt completely alone, I didn’t know what to do or where to turn to. I was depressed. I barely got out of bed for six months I felt so guilty and 'What did I do wrong? What if I could’ve?' And this and that. Then a period of just trying to fix him myself,” she says.

Jaskulski adds that it’s important for people to be responsible and lock up any medications they have in their homes or to dispose of them if they’re outdated.

That’s where Take Back My Meds MKE comes in. The home-grown coalition is made of business, health care, and environmental professionals who want to help people get rid of their medications in a safe way.

It gives people the chance to drop off old or unused prescriptions at any of the 76 drop-off locations in Milwaukee County; those locations include local pharmacies, fire and police stations.

Alderman Michael Murphy is one city official backing the initiative. He says it’s important for Milwaukee County to be doing something to stop drug abuse and prevent future deaths.

Murphy says while he doesn’t personally know anyone who’s dealt with addiction, he’s heard stories from his constituents about the losses they’ve faced - and he says that’s kept him passionate about curbing the issue.

“Many people got hooked on heroin through oxycodone, a legal narcotic prescribed by the medical community and over-prescribed and as a result of taking those drugs away from individuals, they unfortunately still have an addiction and then they move to heroin. And I think we have an obligation to try and change that outcome," he says.

Murphy says since the program first rolled out – which was around the summer of last year – more than 1,000 pounds of medication has been collected.

Jon Richards, coalition director for the program, says the goal of Take Back My Meds is twofold: “We know that unused medicine is one of the prime drivers of the opioid crisis that we have. In fact, we’ve heard that 80 percent of people who are on heroin now often got their start or kept an addiction going with unused medicine and so it’s very important to get rid of it.”

But he also says properly disposing of medication is beneficial for the environment – specifically, he says, for Lake Michigan.

Some people may think flushing medication is a good disposal tactic, but Richards says that’s not true. “If you flush it down the toilet, MMSD, which treats all the sewage for Milwaukee County, is unable to treat it and that unused medicine goes directly into Lake Michigan. So we’re already finding many, many drugs present in Lake Michigan, that number is continuing to grow and what’s concerning is the drugs we’re finding in Lake Michigan are not breaking down over time.”

Richards says Take Back My Meds is designed to show people they have safe options when they want to get rid of unused medication. Plus they don’t have to wait for drug take back days a couple times a year because Take Back My Meds is year-round.

Teran Powell joined WUWM in the fall of 2017 as the station’s very first Eric Von Broadcast Fellow. She became WUWM's race and ethnicity reporter in 2018.
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