The Drug Problem in Your Medicine Cabinet

The proper disposal of leftover or out of date pharmaceuticals is receiving more attention as part of a national concern over contamination of our water tables.

Think this is not a problem in your household? Just for fun, check your medicine cabinets, dresser drawers and cupboards to determine how many pill bottles and medications are in your home…

  • How many are current?
  • How many are out of date?
  • How many are no longer being used?

In Sonoma County, local officials from many jurisdictions and agencies have developed a joint program to remedy the problem by creating recycling locations around the county–The Safe Medicine Disposal Program.

Background

According to the Centers For Disease Control: Almost 50% of the US population has taken at least one prescription drug in the last month. In the United States, 2.34 Billion prescriptions are issued annually. 

Add the volume of over the counter (OTC) drugs and household inventories can build up dramatically.

While most drugs and pills are consumed, many are not due to changes in treatment, recovery, or death. If discarded drugs and medicines are not kept out of our landfills and waste-water systems, they will contaminate our water table by leaching out from the landfills or passing through (in whole or in part) even the most sophisticated waste-water filtering systems.

So, what do we do with the household inventory of out of date or unused medications and drugs? In the past, the advice and practice was to simply throw them in the trash or flush them down the toilet. Today, such disposal practices are not recommended–if not illegal in some jurisdictions.

The better practice is to gather all of your unused or out of date medications, pills, lotions, liquids, etc. and take them to a location that will ensure their safe disposal.

Sonoma County water agencies are now providing such convenient disposal options…

Sonoma County Safe Medicine Disposal Program

The Safe Medicine Disposal Program is a countywide pharmaceuticals recycling program jointly managed by several agencies providing convenient locations for you to safely dispose of unwanted medicines without charge. It has been in operation since 2008. For more infomration on the program and disposal sites, go to Safe Medicine Disposal and Sonoma County Drop-Off Locations

Heather Johnson, Santa Rosa Environmental Compliance Inspector, provided numbers measuring the growing effectiveness of the program: 

Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol

  • 2008–2552 pounds
  • 2009–4492 pounds
  • 2010–7475 pounds
  • 2011–4612 pounds to date

To fully appreciate these numbers, note that they are exclusive of bottle or container weight.

In Petaluma, Jamil Harb of The Medicine Shoppe advises that his take back program is currently processing 100 pounds a month.

In addition, an official of Petaluma’s Water Resources & Conservation Department advises that they are setting up a disposal site program at “…two public building locations (one to serve the western sections of the community and one to serve the eastern portions)…Our goal is to have the full-time program in place by the end of the summer in time to be announced in the fall newsletter.” 

The Department recently sponsored a one day take back program at the Petaluma Senior Center that recovered 114 pounds.

Below are related links providing additional information on medicine disposal and related recycling issues.

Sources & Reference Links

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