Take back these drugs – please

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "Facing the Yuck Factor."

Americans love their medications. Pharmacists fill more than 3 billion prescriptions a year in the United States, and consumers also buy huge quantities of over-the-counter drugs. Many of those pharmaceuticals enter wastewater when people urinate. Others end up there when unused medications are flushed into toilets to dispose of them - a practice that pharmacists recommended for years because it prevents drugs from falling into the wrong hands or confusing elderly patients. Even sending drugs to landfills tends to have much the same result, as buried substances leach into groundwater. 

Now, as evidence of the persistence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment grows, a number of communities are establishing so-called "take-back programs" to keep unused pharmaceuticals from entering their wastewater systems. It's no easy task, since many prescription drugs are classified as controlled substances that can only be handled by licensed personnel, such as law enforcement officials. 

"The regulations that we've put into place in this country, for good reasons, are now making it really difficult for people to do the right thing," says Brenda Bateman of the Tualatin Valley Water District in Oregon, who has been conducting a study of take-back programs. "We've really set up a barrier about who you can hand unneeded pharmaceuticals to." 

Oregon officials are currently working on a program to collect surplus medications at nursing homes, and many communities around the country have set up periodic events at which members of the public can safely discard drugs they no longer need. But California's San Mateo County has pioneered a permanent drop-off program. Officials there have set up converted mailboxes or book-drop boxes inside about a dozen police stations. Only officers can remove medications dropped in them; then the drugs are transferred to a company that collects and incinerates medical wastes. In its first year of operation, the program has collected about a ton of pharmaceuticals at a disposal cost of about $1.60 a pound. 

"A buck sixty to get rid of a pound of hazardous waste," says Bill Chiang, a legislative aide to County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, who spearheaded the program. "That's pretty good."

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Introduction: Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with offices located in Kanab and Escalante, Utah. We are committed to the conservation...
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • SONORAN INSTITUTE, CEO
    Chief Executive Officer Tucson, Arizona ABOUT SONORAN INSTITUTE Since 1990, the Sonoran Institute has brought together diverse interests to successfully forge effective and enduring conservation...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...