Paul Ritter, a Pontiac Township High School science teacher and creator of the Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal (P²D²) Program, did not expect that a question he asked his ecology class in 2008 would have led to the development of a rapidly growing medication disposal program and a partnership with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG).
The answer to Ritter’s question—where do unused medications go when patients no longer need them?—is that many people flush them down the toilet, causing the pharmaceuticals to turn up in waterways, and in some cases drinking water supplies, across the country. Ritter’s response was to develop P²D², a program that seeks to deter that behavior through education and by providing the resources for community collection programs.
“When I got into this, I didn’t expect the success and magnitude of the program,” said Ritter, who initially wanted his students to simply research the question. “It just happened.”
But Ritter and his partner, social studies teacher Eric Bohm, realized that that the unexpected growth of the program would require more brainpower and resources. “We’re two high school teachers,” Ritter said. “We know education. IISG brings the science.”
IISG had been combating improper medication disposal for years through their toolkit and workshops when they joined forces with Ritter and P²D².
IISG is able to help P²D² by providing outreach and funding, while P²D² serves as another outlet for their resources. “Paul wanted information to give out to communities,” said Susan Boehme, IISG coastal sediment specialist. “IISG is able to provide information that is relevant and accurate.”
For example, IISG’s toolkit—Disposal of Unwanted Medicines: A Resource for Action in Your Community— provides the necessary information for a community to start up a collection program. That includes case studies, outreach material, literature on the subject, legislation, and facts about international donation.
IISG has also been instrumental in Ritter’s efforts to establish drop boxes in communities for medication collection, providing funding for nine of the 30-50 boxes established nationwide by P2D2. In LaSalle County, Illinois, drop boxes have been established in three locations with four more in the works. Thus far, 475 pounds of pharmaceuticals have been collected throughout the county.
Furthermore, IISG is responsible for the statewide effort in Illinois and Indiana to collect at police stations, an idea presented by the staff at an Illinois police station. Police station collections allow people to drop off controlled substances, which would otherwise involve complex legal issues.
The latest resource to come out of the symbiotic partnership is a multi-disciplinary service-learning curriculum—The Medicine Chest—which seeks to educate students about improper medication disposal and give them the tools to inform their communities. IISG developed it around the desire to distribute Ritter’s and Bohm’s lesson plans, which serve as the centerpiece of the publication, to a larger audience.
“They’re impact is immeasurable,” Ritter said of IISG. “They’re involved in so many aspects. I am truly thankful for their help and support.”
Boehme similarly had high praise for Ritter, stressing how important his energy and dedication are to both organizations’ efforts to curb improper medication disposal. “Paul is able to connect directly with communities beyond the reach of IISG,” Boehme said. “We make each other’s programs better.”