Medicine drop prioritizes town safety

Carrboro residents and community members dropped off old prescription drugs all afternoon and into the evening on Sept. 25. Operation Medicine Drop, which was organized by the Carrboro Police Department and sponsored by the State Bureau of Investigation and Safe Kids North Carolina, ran from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Carrboro Town Commons on West Main Street.

Staff photo by Liz Tablazon UNC pharmacy students and Carrboro police sort through old medicines for proper disposal
Police officers and pharmacy students sort through old medicines for proper disposal. (Staff photo by Liz Tablazon)

Operation Medicine Drop is an annual event that serves to “keep the people safe, keep the water safe and keep the soil safe,” Sgt. Billy Austin of the community services division said.

“It’s to prevent the diversion of prescription medicines and prevent people from using more than they need, selling it, taking what they shouldn’t, taking from others.”

Anyone can drop off expired or unused medicines, medicated ointments and lotions, medicine samples and even medicine for pets. Needles, thermometers and IV solution bags are not accepted.

Austin said that the collection also protects water and soil by providing a safe way to dispose of the medicines because the water system is not designed to filter drugs’ harmful chemicals out of waste.

“People will flush this stuff in the water,” Austin said. “It’s possible that people keep drinking other people’s medicine.”

Community Services Division Officer Heather Barrett explained the process of collecting old medicines. She said that when people drop off their old medicines, they usually come with labels.

“We mark out any identifying information and empty the bottles,” Barrett said. “We separate liquids from pills.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) collects the sorted drugs and passes them through an incinerator in Haw River. She said that the ashes then go through smokestacks in a form that is no longer harmful to the environment.

It was the third time that the Carrboro police organized the annual collection event, but the department has a permanent drug drop box open during the week.

Austin said that officers also go to retirement centers to collect expired or unused medications. They set up in the lobby so that the elderly have an opportunity to drop off their medicines since they can’t usually make it to the public events or to the drop box location, Austin said.

“The community wants this service,” he said. “It’s important enough.”

Austin said that the event also provides Carrboro police with an opportunity to publicly interact with the community in a different way than they are usually able to.

Operation Medicine Drop is also supported by UNC Chapel Hill police, UNC Hospitals police and the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. There were 12 pharmacy students present at the event to assist with the collection and sorting of the medicines.

Austin encouraged Carrboro residents to continue to drop off unused, unwanted or expired medicines at the Carrboro Police Department drop box on Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Chapel Hill Police Department and the Hillsborough Police Department also have permanent drop box locations. For more information about Operation Medicine Drop and protecting the community from drug abuse and the environment from harmful substances, email Austin at

Author of the article

Liz is a staff writer for the Carrboro Commons. She is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.