Patients can safely and securely dispose of unused medications using a blue "medsafe" medication disposal box located in the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital's main outpatient pharmacy waiting room.

A second collection receptacle is located in the Consolidated Troop Medical Center.

"The fact that GLWACH was chosen for this new medication-return pilot program is a clear indication to me of the confidence, reliability and value of this military treatment facility to higher Army and federal decision makers," said Stephanie Gilbert, GLWACH assistant pharmacy chief.

The receptacle's one-way drop door is open to accept deposits during the main outpatient pharmacy's normal hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

Accepted medications for disposal in the box include:

-- Prescription, over-the-counter and controlled- substance medications

-- Vitamins

-- Medicated lotions/ointments

-- Liquid medication in leak-proof containers

-- Transdermal skin patches

Items not suitable for deposit in the medsafe containers include:

-- Needles (Sharps)

-- Thermometers

-- Contraband drugs

-- Infectious waste/medical waste

-- Personal-care products

-- Business waste

-- Hydrogen peroxide

-- Aerosol cans

-- Inhalers

Rates of prescription drug abuse in the United States are alarmingly high. The majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from Family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

"These medication amnesty boxes will save lives -- it's just that simple," Gilbert said.

"This method for the destruction of controlled drugs renders the medications completely unusable through incineration, which also prevents them from contaminating ground water."

The collection receptacles are designed to further implement the "Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act" in conjunction with continued take-back events and mail-back programs.

Issues with the mixing of non-controlled medications with controlled substances have hindered safe and secure use of collection receptacles in the past, but under new Drug Enforcement Administration regulations collection boxes are now not only an acceptable practice, but the preferred method of medication disposal for communities.

The double-locked steel collection boxes are securely fastened to a permanent structure, tested under the standards established by Underwriters Laboratories, and the removable serialized liner is tracked and transported by independent authorized carriers.

Safe household disposal of expired, unused or unwanted medications is also an accepted method of disposal and involves a five-step process to ensure these medications can't be reacquired or reused on the street.

To use the household method of disposal:

-- Take the medications out of their original containers.

-- Mix the medications with cat litter or used coffee grounds.

-- Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid such as an empty margarine tub or a sealable bag.

-- Conceal or remove any personal information, including the prescription number, on the empty containers by covering it with permanent marker, duct tape or by scratching this information off of the product.

-- Place the sealed mixture in the trash.

"Don't flush your expired, unwanted or unused medications or over-the-counter drugs down the toilet," Gilbert said. "Unused prescription medication in homes creates a public health and safety concern. They are highly susceptible to accidental ingestion, diversion, misuse and abuse."

(Editor's note: Brooks is the marketing and public affairs officer at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital.)