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Take-Backs prevent prescription drug abuse, potential water pollution

Safely ridding homes of old Rx's is a key factor in Take-Back Day.
Safely ridding homes of old Rx's is a key factor in Take-Back Day.

Spring marks the time to not only create fresher, uncluttered homes, but also focus on areas within medicine chests and cupboards that house potential dangers through prescriptions and other medications.

An emerging tradition is the willingness of law enforcement to stage what is called “take back” campaigns, where used or unused items can be brought to local police stations for safe disposal.

What that means for families is no more worries about accidental ingestion, overly curious kids bent on experimentation, or poisons resulting from disintegrating medical compounds.

Held as a national campaign in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the collaborative effort is geared to remove potentially dangerous controlled substances. Efforts to patrol the misuse of prescriptions drugs were solidified shortly after the first Take-Back Day in 2010 when Congress passed the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act, which allowed the DEA to create permanent, ongoing and accountable methods of disposal.

Before 2010, there was no existing method to legally transfer controlled substances from users for disposal.

According to The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than six million Americans use prescription drugs not legally issued by physicians, a practice on the rise for more than a decade. The Centers for Disease Control says prescription abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem facing the U.S. and the cause for more deaths than car accidents.

It’s a larger problem, in fact, than the combined drug use of cocaine, heroin, and hallucinogens. Expired, unused or unwanted controlled substances in homes feed that abuse and pose a traceable risk to public health and safety.

The current means acceptable for transferring the goods allow that meds do not have to be in the original containers or in labeled packaging. Once surrendered, the materials will be destroyed by heeding necessary federal and state laws and regulations as well as tribal laws that oversee safe disposal.

The last Take-Back Day collection, held in September of 2012, resulted in the acceptance of almost 14,000 pounds of drugs at 172 Michigan sites. And, in just four national take-backs, more than 2 million pounds of Rx’s were taken out of circulation.

In Michigan, according to Dawn Radzioch of the Macomb County Department of Community Health, Macomb County leads in the collection of Rx’s, per the DEA.

Take-backs are preferable to self-disposal overall. In fact, ridding homes of prescription drugs today poses an environmental hazard.

There is genuine concern among environmentalists that American tap water in urban areas is laced with antidepressants (predominantly SSRIs, like Prozac and Effexor), benzodiazepines (such as Klonopin) and anticonvulsants (like Topomax).

Environmental studies within the past decade indicate this is a measurable, and under-publicized, problem.

According to a March 13 article by New York-based Matt Harvey in the addiction/recovery blog “the Fix,” the pollution occurs when prescriptions are flushed through toilets.

And the passage of meds is equally a problem whether pills are dumped into toilets, or passed through human waste being eliminated.

Harvey quotes Michael Thomas, an associate professor of bioinformatics at Idaho State University, as saying that 80 percent of medical chemicals are not broken down in our bodies and are thus recycled into reservoirs because sewage treatment plants can’t filter them out.

“They just fly right through,” he quotes Thomas as saying.

The university conducted a study with fathead minnows in a lab vat of American tap water. After 18 days, the minnows exhibited 324 genetic alterations associated with neurological disorders in humans, including autism.

Additionally, adds Harvey, studies show that regular doses of SSRIs — even in trace amounts — can damage human DNA, most notably that DNA found in sperm.

Global problems with drinking water, watersheds and reservoirs exist, and even bottled water is affected, says Harvey, because tap water is used in packaged bottles, too.

More studies exist, including those being conducted internationally to measure the drug threat to human health through our water supply.

Meanwhile, official Take-Back disposal sites through law enforcement agencies will be available as of April 1.

For more information, check or

FDA – How to Dispose of Unused Medicines

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