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
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • 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...
  • OWN A THRIVING MOUNTAIN GUIDE SERVICE.
    Eastern Sierra guide service for sale to person with vision & expertise to take it onwards. Since 1995 with USFS & NPS permits. Ideal for...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • 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...