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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Safe disposal of unused medications

Last year I had to have emergency surgery and the hospital prescribed some opiate painkillers for my recovery.  I only took one or two of those pills because they made me feel so woozy, and the pain was quite tolerable with a little help from ibuprofen.  Recently I looked at that bottle of painkillers in my medicine cabinet and decided to dispose of it safely.  I am quite aware that there has been a significant increase in the abuse of opiates nationally and here in the state of Maine.  Apparently some house break-ins are now being attributed to drug addicts looking for opiates in medicine cabinets.  Medications are typically placed in the trash or dumped in the toilet, neither of these options are environmentally responsible.  In previous years, my wife and I would take our unused medications to an annual return drive at one of the local fire departments. 
Me disposing meds in the MedReturn box at our local police station
Last year there was a big push on a national level to make it easier for people to keep these dangerous narcotics and pharmaceuticals off the streets so now there are return boxes located in police and sheriffs departments throughout the country.  This makes it very easy and convenient to safely dispose of these potentially dangerous medications.  Here is a good article in the New York Times about the new return policy implemented by the DEA.  To locate a MedReturn drug collection box near you, you can go to their website: http://www.medreturn.com.  Medications are collected and responsibly disposed, typically by incineration.  They have a map you can use to search by ZIP Code and I found 5 drop-off sites within 10 miles of my home.

The other reason it is a good idea to dispose of these medications this way is to keep these chemicals out of the waste water treatment plants which cannot process them.  For instance, when birth control pills containing synthetic estrogen or other hormones enter the waste water stream they can have significant adverse effects on aquatic life. According to this NPR article, it has caused some species of male fish to become feminized, even causing them to produce eggs in their testes.  The issue can be severe enough to cause a collapse of an entire fish population resulting in near extinction.

From a sustainability standpoint is up to us to take full responsibility for all aspects of our waste, particularly to protect the environment from harmful side effects of these chemicals entering our streams, rivers and lakes.