Always call first. I know this is good advice, especially when you’re depending on a website for directions, hours of operation, etc. The consequences of not calling might lead to a long wait for the place to open up, or there’s a furniture outlet where the computer store used to be. These are indeed frustrating experiences, but I have now really learned my lesson.
The situation arose from a family member having accumulated a large supply of unused prescription medication during a serious, but short term illness. Disposing of left over controlled substances presents both moral and environmental problems. If you dump the pills in the trash, especially in our area where homeless people go through garbage cans, the meds could wind up in someone’s stomach with disastrous results. If they’re not removed and ingested, they will go to a landfill and eventually leach into the soil and the water supply, also an undesirable outcome. The solution is to be a good citizen and take medical waste to a designated drop-off.
Searching the city’s website (and they don’t make it easy), I found three locations where pills are accepted for proper disposal. The closest was a pharmacy unfortunately located on a street a former student of mine cited as the name of a street gang she liked. But this really was the closest location. The website gave directions on how to repackage the pills: remove them from the bottles and place them together in a ziplock bag. For safety, remove the labels from the pill bottles, black out the writing on the labels and throw out in your own trash. Simple enough. I followed the directions and we headed out for the drop-off.
I realized from the address and my former student’s declarations that we’d be traveling to a sleazy area, but it was a weekend morning and the pharmacy’s address was on a main business street. The street is lined with strip malls and newer chain stores at major intersections. Busy and safe enough. However, driving slowly by, we didn’t see a pharmacy. The strip malls lack signage and are set way back from the street. Cars and trucks blocked the view. Also, showing a street number on stores is apparently superfluous in our town. We pulled into several lovely malls. You can BUY AND SELL GOLD. You can get a PAYDAY LOAN. You can get lots of fast food. The odd thing is I couldn’t figure out what most of the businesses were. The shops had innocuous names and their windows were covered with so many posters and signs it was impossible to see inside. This made us feel extra lost.
Having no other recourse than to use the street numbers on corner street signs to navigate, we found we’d already gone too far south and would have to turn around. Easy? No. The intersection was a block from a freeway entrance and jammed with cars. Another feature of our city is the penchant for NO U TURN signs paired with concrete meridian strips in case you were thinking of avoiding the law. After several infuriating detours, we found ourselves approaching the right block once again. Unfortunately, by the time we saw the sign above the pharmacy (the name was painted in faded green on a yellow background) we’d passed the entrance to the parking lot. My friend, who was driving, wasn’t willing to do another big drive around, so he abruptly pulled into the next available parking area. There were only three cars in the large lot.
Behind us sat a hulking dark warehouse. I pulled the pills, packed in a gallon size, ziplock bag from the glove compartment and opened the car door. My friend jumped out the other side, more than ready to finish this errand. As I turned to exit the car, my eyes rested on a line of lettering above the door of the building behind us. POLICE SERVICES. I immediately dropped the bag, realizing I was about to walk through a police lot holding a large, transparent bag of pills with no documentation linking them to legality. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a handbag with me we didn’t have a way to hide them.
I pointed this out to my friend, hoping he had a solution, but he was in an irritable mood after driving around in circles for half an hour.
“Let’s go!” he said. So I leaned into the car and feeling like a criminal, lifted up my shirt and stuffed the bag of pills under the waistband of my jeans. I then flipped my shirt down and exited the car, all the while sweating there might be surveillance cameras taping my every move.
We quickly headed to the little mall, passing a taco place, an massive insurance company, and several small bodegas. Having a rather odd looking lump on my stomach, I was glad we didn’t pass anyone on the walkway. We entered the pharmacy. There was just one customer sitting in a chair waiting while the pharmacist worked in his cage.
A woman stepped from behind a counter to greet us. I pulled out the bag of pills and told her we’d come to drop them off.
“We don’t take them anymore,” she said.
“Huh? WHAT?” I sputtered. “You’re listed on the city website as a disposal place.”
“We don’t take them. I think you have to take them to the sheriff.”
Sheriff? Maybe I should just stroll into that POLICE building. But no, not without documentation!
The woman didn’t have any information about the new location, which I found annoying. Defeated, and angry at myself for not checking before making the trip, I stuffed the pills under my shirt again and we left the store. The expression on my friend’s face I will leave to your imagination.
What to do??? The “good citizen” thing to do would have been to take the pills back home, do more research, and take them to the, ahem, designated disposal site.
Guess what we did with the pills. What would you have done?
P.S. The city has updated their website. They now list only one disposal location, which is quite a distance from my house.
Mickey Hoffman is the author of two mystery novels, Deadly Traffic and School of Lies, published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC. For more information visit www.mickeyhoffman.com