Pharmacy offering free disposal of medicines and sharps

Lamotte with the Student Health Center Pharmacy's new medications and sharps disposal container.

The UCSC Student Health Center Pharmacy can now provide safe and free disposal of personal unused and expired medications as well as household sharps, such as needles, lancets, and scalpels.

Called Sharps Solution, the program is administered through a county grant with help from local nonprofit environmental consultancy Ecology Action. It is free and available to students, staff, faculty, and community members. The campus pharmacy is one of about 20 pharmacies in the county participating in the program.

The goal of the Sharps Solution program is to improve the environment by sending fewer chemicals and sharps into sewers and landfills--and by extension, into the ocean, said Diane Lamotte, PRh, ancillary services coordinator for the Cowell Student Health Center.

Before disposal programs such as Sharps Solution, patients often threw old medications and sharps in the trash or flushed them down the toilet, said Lamotte.

News reports earlier this year uncovered the presence of tiny concentrations of a vast array of pharmaceuticals in drinking water supplies across the nation. Water utilities insisted their water was safe, but scientists worried about the long-term health consequences of the discovery.

"It's not just that disposing of them properly is the right thing to do, but you realize there are hormones and other medications out there and in our drinking water," Lamotte said.

The program also aims to also improve safety at home, especially for children, pets, and the elderly.

"It's an excellent public service," Lamotte said. "Often people would bring these items to pharmacies, and we weren't allowed to accept them before."

She sees it as a potentially valuable service especially for faculty and staff, who may have been accumulating things or have had a loved one pass away or experience a significant change in health.

The collected waste will be properly disposed of by environmental consulting firm Advanced Waste Solutions.

Facts to know about disposing of waste with Sharps Solution:


  • Medications will need to be checked by a pharmacist prior to disposal.

  • They should be in the original bottles with the medication name visible (the patient name can be marked out).

  • Controlled substances are not allowed.

  • Items accepted include prescription, over-the-counter, and pet medication; medication samples; vitamins; medicated ointments, creams, and lotions; inhalers; and liquid medications in leak-proof containers.

  • Items not accepted include controlled substances (narcotics), personal care products, aerosol cans, bloody or infectious waste, thermometers, IV bags, hydrogen peroxide, and empty containers.


  • Sharps are needles, pen needles, lancets, broken medication glass such as ampoules, scalpels, and suture needles.

  • A new law states that as of Sept. 1, 2008, all sharps must be disposed of in approved sharps containers.

  • Sharps containers are available for purchase at pharmacies. The program offers $3-off coupons toward the purchase of a sharps container, available at the pharmacy. The UCSC SHC Pharmacy sells the containers for $3, so they're free.

The UCSC Pharmacy is located in the Cowell Student Health Center, on McLaughlin Drive across from Colleges 9 and 10. The Student Health Center is currently undergoing a remodel and expansion. The pharmacy is temporarily located at the far back of the building and can be reached by walking around to the back of the building.

Gene Forrer of Environmental Health & Safety and Silas Snyder of the Colleges and University Housing Services have been collaborating with Lamotte to provide this service.