Sometimes the problem of safe medication disposal is one that reminds me of the proverbial saying “stuck between a rock and a hard place”.
In the early part of the century, environmental studies showed that there are measurable drug residues in our lakes, rivers, streams and even in tap water. Later studies showed changes in the environment, specifically in the development of fish. Problems in sexual development were noted in areas with higher levels of artificial hormones (e.g. estrogens found in birth control pills) and neurological development and behavioral issues were seen in fish exposed to low level psychiatric medications.
Initial blame was placed on medications being flushed down the toilet, but further analysis of the problem seems to show that the bulk of drugs in the national waterways come from the natural excretion of medication from our bodies. Drugs that enter the body leave the body in either modified or unmodified form in feces and urine; there is no way around how we function. However, since flushing of unused, unwanted or expired medication is a controllable behavior, the flushing of medication was and is strongly discouraged as a way of decreasing the amount of pharmaceuticals in our waterways and the resulting stress on our fragile ecosystems.
The “rock” here is that convenient simple medication disposal methods and locations are not readily available. To increase the utilization of medication drop off sites, they should have these three characteristics:
- A place to drop off unwanted medications needs to be geographically close (taking 3 buses to get to the disposal area is not a convenient option)
- It should have 24/7 availability (in today’s service environment, working weekends and evenings is commonplace). Drop off sites that are open only on Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm does not work for a lot of busy families who have work, school, sports and other activities.
- The drop off sites should be able to accept all medications including controlled substances (e.g. narcotic pain medications.) Some drop-off site will take all medications EXCEPT controlled substances, thereby limiting the usefulness of the drop off site.
Unused, unwanted or expired (but still active drugs) are potential killers in our homes. Poisoning is the second leading cause of injury-related death in the US, having surpassed firearms in 2005; only motor vehicle collisions kill more people every year. The vast majority of poisoning deaths are medication and drug related. In a previous blog “The 21st century road to heroin town”, it was discussed that the vast majority of prescription pain pill abuse starts in the home medicine cabinet. New CDC data is showing that up to 80% of new heroin abusers were initially introduced to opioids through prescription pain medications.
The ‘hard place’ here is that even though we know that excess medications in the home can be harmful through accidental ingestion or experimentation, there is no convenient place to get rid of the medications.
So the question becomes: Poison the environment that we live in or continue to add to the epidemic of poisoning related deaths in our communities. “A Rock and a Hard Place” indeed.
New Solution for Chicagoans:
Chicago has recently expanded the number of take back stations from six to 23. This was done by expanding the number of police stations that will accept medication drop-offs from five to 22.
- These drop off sites are open 24/7, meeting the needs of everyone in the community, including those that work evenings and weekends.
- They take back controlled substances as well as other prescription and OTC medications, so all unwanted household medications can be disposed of in one location
- With 22 locations around the city, it is likely that a police station will be in close proximity from all Chicago residents.
Here in Chicago, I think the rock just cracked.
Till next time,
On a related note, the DEA National Take Back Day is October 26. Check the DEA website frequently for drop off locations near you.
If your community in IL has a medication/drug take back program, let us know, we would love to highlight efforts that make us all healthier.