October 17, 2019

Earlier this month, the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy hosted its biannual Safe Medication Disposal event. Students operated two collections sites, on central campus and at the Brighton Center for Specialty Care (BCSC). This was the first time the event occurred outside of Ann Arbor. A new partnership with Michigan Medicine and BCSC allowed students to expand this free service to more of the Southeastern Michigan community.

Thirty-six U-M pharmacy students staffed the two sites to receive visitors’ unused or expired medications under the watchful eye of Nancy Mason, PharmD, associate dean for student affairs and clinical professor for the U-M College of Pharmacy, and Peggy Carver, PharmD, associate professor of pharmacy.

“This is an extremely important event, aimed at getting unwanted or expired medications out of medicine cabinets and away from the potential danger of falling into the wrong hands,” Dr. Mason says. “That’s why we wanted to do this — and Michigan Medicine has been a great partner in helping us keep the community safe.”

An intensive task

Safely disposing of medications is not an easy task — it takes time and effort to ensure there is no harm to individuals or the environment.

The process, led by pharmacy students, involves collecting, sorting and safely stowing medications into oversized  bins. The bins keep medications separate by type (non-controlled/controlled substances, sharps, liquids/ointments and aerosols) and make the process easier for the University’s Environmental Health and Safety Hazardous Materials Management program to dispose the medications safely.

Collecting sharps — such as needles, syringes and disposable lancets — is new to these collection events and was a huge draw to appreciative visitors.

“Everyone who stopped by the event was thrilled that we were taking sharps, which shows the need for more accessible ways for the community to safely dispose of all types of medications,” says Andrew Barbish, PharmD candidate.

Once medications were secured, students removed patient information from prescription packaging (ultimately shredding the labels), and took the empty bottles/boxes back to campus to be recycled.

The University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security’s Sgt. Gary Hicks and Police Officer Bernard Mundt monitored the process on central campus, while Police Officer Marty Morales and Michigan Medicine Security Officer Billy Burton oversaw the collection efforts in Brighton.


Overall, the disposal event was a rousing success, keeping an impressive 872 lbs. of meds from falling into the wrong hands, contaminating lakes and streams or ending up in drinking water. Since 2014, Pharmacy students have collected almost 5,000 lbs. of medication and sharps.

“The public continues to support the event, the collected totals alone demonstrate that,” says Bethany Kuenzer, PharmD candidate.  “We received many thanks for providing the community with a safe way to dispose of unused medications and were asked for the date of our next disposal event. The event also provides students with valuable experience in a way to engage in the community in an impactful way.”

“We’re thrilled with this year’s event,” Andrew concludes. “And it proves that the appetite is there for us to help individuals protect themselves and the environment around them.”