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The Big Red Barrel

Heroin addiction typically starts with prescription medication abuse, specifically heavy pain killers. After numerous deaths throughout Livingston County that were attributed to drug overdoses, Livingston County Community Alliance members (LCCA) members saw the need for a place where people could safely dispose of their unwanted medication. With permanent prescription drug collection units available for community use, it would decrease the likelihood of prescription drug abuse, heroin use, and maintain a healthy environment.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) mandates that prescription drug take back programs be monitored by law enforcement at all times.  The members spoke with the Livingston County Sheriff’s department to gage law enforcement buy-in. The department said that if LCCA volunteers were willing to do the footwork, law enforcement would support the effort and be willing to handle pill collections and disposal. With assistance from community businesses, local law enforcement agencies, students, and other community members, LCCA members were able to design units that looked like big, red, barrels. The big red barrels were first placed in the Michigan State Police Department in Brighton, MI and at the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department in April, 2011.


By October, 2011, the Big Red Barrels could be found in most police departments throughout Livingston County. Since the Big Red Barrel Project’s inception, over 2 TONS of medication have been collected in Livingston County alone. The barrels and the LCCA have received publicity from all local television stations and was recognized by the State of Michigan as a Hometown Health Hero. Click here to see the pictures from the award ceremony.

Continuing Plans

The Big Red Barrel program has become a model program for other communities interested in creating similar drug take back programs. The LCCA is looking forward to working with these communities. A Big Red Barrel tool-kit is available for groups to use as a guide for constructing their own drug collection units.  For more information about this tool-kit, contact Megan Palmer at 517-545-5944.


How to Drop Off Medications

There is a “no questions asked” policy. This program is free and available for all people to use.

To dispose of pills, capsules, tablets, etc:

  1. Bring pills in their original containers and a resealable plastic baggie to any Big Red Barrel location.
  2. Remove pills from their original container and place them into the baggie.
  3. Seal the baggie and dispose of it into the barrel.

If you do not have a baggie, please dump pills directly into the barrel.

Congratulations! You’ve properly disposed of your medication!

To dispose of liquid medication:

  1. Prior to disposal, absorb the liquid medication with a paper towel.
  2. Place the soaked paper towel into a resealable plastic baggie. Make sure you have the empty bottle on-hand to ensure compliance with federal laws.
  3. Dispose of the resealable plastic bag into the Big Red Barrel. It is your responsibility to dispose of the empty bottle somewhere other than the Big Red Barrel.

Needles and syringes

Needles and syringes are not accepted. Please go to your local pharmacy and purchase a sharps container. These typically cost $6.00. Put your sharps in the container and return them to: St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital Pharmacy; or Livingston County Solid Waste Management. For additional information about proper needle disposal, visit the Livingston County website


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