To provide a safe, convenient and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors periodic "national take-backs" for medications. The 11th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is this weekend (April 30th) in communities across the United States. (Collection sites are searchable here.)
While the focus of the campaign is on preventing abuse of prescription drugs, properly disposing of prescription medications is also a water quality issue. As a 2011 Harvard Health Letter article called "Drugs in the water" explains, "A study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1999 and 2000 found measurable amounts of one or more medications in 80% of the water samples drawn from a network of 139 streams in 30 states. The drugs identified included a witches’ brew of antibiotics, antidepressants, blood thinners, heart medications (ACE inhibitors, calcium-channel blockers, digoxin), hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), and painkillers."
Pharmaceuticals enter waterways through agriculture, manufacturing, human and animal waste and, yes, improper disposal of medications. While it was once commonly recommended that expired or unneeded medications be flushed down the toilet, new EPA guidelines discourage hospitals, nursing homes and individuals from flushing most unused drugs down the drain or toilet. Encouraging participation in events such as the National Take-Back Initiative is one way to reduce water contamination and protect water quality.
Project WET Foundation staff and the Project WET USA Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products research team prepared a webinar on this subject, and the screencast of the educational event is available online to anyone wanting to learn more.