Nursing students educate people about disposing medications for class project

Yelena Tischenko

Ninety-six percent of disposed antibiotics and other drugs end up in the environment one way or another.

Drugs that aren’t properly disposed of can eventually harm people and wildlife. Ten nursing students teamed up on a semester-long class project and traveled to Alliance to educate the public on how to properly dispose of drugs.

Paul Bassett, group member and senior nursing major, said his group picked a topic their instructor was unfamiliar with, which was completely different from other groups’ projects.

“She told us that we were on foreign ground, and she doesn’t even know how to instruct us on where to go,” he said. “We were just making our own trail and going from there.”

The team found that 80 percent of rivers and streams in Alliance contained drugs such as antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives and steroids. When the drugs reach the water, it affects the aquatic ecosystem, the water system and environment.

Alliance isn’t the only community that has this problem. They also found that contamination levels for Alliance are similar to those for the city of Canton. Experts in the community know the problem exists, unfortunately don’t have certain resources to do anything about it, said Caroline Laska, group member and senior nursing major.

“No one’s ever touched on this (subject) before,” Laska said. “Our focus is mainly on education, telling everyone about the drug drop and handing out brochures explaining how to dispose of medication if they can’t get to a drug drop.”

The group found common ways people dispose of drugs are burying them or flushing them down the toilet. All of this goes back into the land and keeps getting built up over time, Laska said.

“Opium, morphine and even chemo drugs were being flushed down the toilet because nurses didn’t know what else to do with them,” Bassett said. “There’s no protocol to do anything with them, either.”

The team educated Alliance residents about disposing medication correctly. As part of the project, the students and officials set up 12 different drop-off locations in Stark County.

“We educated everyone from the policymakers to patients how to bring the drugs back to the drug drop, especially the visiting nurses since they go out and talk face-to-face to patients,” Laska said.

The team also set up a mini-health fair at the Alliance Area Senior Center, a nonprofit organization that offers programs and activities for senior citizens. The students offered free blood pressure screenings and healthy snacks to bring in senior citizens. They then had the senior citizens complete a survey about how they dispose of their medications and if they would participate in drug drops; most said yes.

“They were excited and wanted to participate,” Bassett said.

Now that they have finished their project, the students hope more people will become knowledgeable about disposing medications.

“It’s a good start,” Laska said. “We planted the seed, so we could only wait and see what’s next.”

Contact Yelena Tischenko at [email protected].