Me. A bagful of prescription drugs. The Alton Police Department.
No, it’s not as scandalous as it sounds. I found myself at the station (not in handcuffs, mind you) because I had a bagful of pills and wanted to do the right thing.
Earlier this summer, I moved to a new home, and in the process of packing, I realized just how many old prescriptions I had tucked away in the back corners of medicine cabinets and hiding in the rear of seldom-used drawers. When did this happen, I thought. I used to avoid taking aspirin, for Pete’s sake; when did I suddenly get a bathroom full of medicines for aches, pains and assorted deficiencies?
In addition to collapsing in a heap on the bathroom floor, wailing at the realization that I was not a kid anymore and had the medicine cabinet of my grandparents, I was also faced with a dilemma — what do I do with the old drugs? I had heard and read about being responsible when disposing of old medicines, especially old antibiotics (of which I had some) and prescription painkillers (of which I had some). But what’s wrong with putting them in the trash as long as they’re not obviously visible? If I flush them, there is certainly not enough here to do any real harm.
As it turns out, there is.
Even small traces of prescription medications can wind up in our area’s waters, where they can be ingested and absorbed by microorganisms and small animals, and the natural food chain allows those compounds to travel beyond the waters and into the soil (and eventually, onto dinner plates). Not only can that lessen the potency of crucial medications such as antibiotics, it can also pass something on that, while keeping one person healthy, can be toxic to another.
Meanwhile, prescription drugs meant for pain management after surgery can be recovered from trash bins and used illegally, keeping addicts one more day away from finding the help they need.
Judy Peipert, who along with her husband, Steve, owns the Brighton Pharmacy (908 N. Main St.), says discarding old drugs is an important issue to her customers, and that’s why they installed a medication disposal receptacle last month.
“We have had a lot of people ask us how to correctly destroy medications,” Judy says. “They have been excited to see what we have now. This also keeps prescription drugs from being stolen and abused.”
To ensure the unused pills fall into the right hands, the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Division collects the medicines directly from the bin, where they are taken and incinerated.
While many people think antibiotics are the only danger, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers, sex hormones, heart medications and even over-the-counter pain medications can be harmful to the environment, as well.
And pharmaceutical companies are getting in on the movement. More companies are employing “green chemistry” and working with government agencies to both manufacture medicines as green as possible and do their part to make it as easy as possible to discard unused pills responsibly. Some have even been given LEED awards for their efforts.
So although walking into police headquarters (one of many disposal sites in our area) with a bunch of prescription bottles may raise a few eyebrows, I’ll take the chance of creating a few hushed whispers if it means keeping my old pills from winding up in the wrong hands (or the wrong soil).
Right now, the quantity of pharmaceuticals in our water is just a trace — although according to an AP investigation, they have been found in the water of no less than 24 metropolitan cities so far, and USA Today reports more than 100 types of medicines in the water — but any is too much. So if everyone who reads this does their part to keep those toxins out of the water we drink, then you are already on the right path to leaving this world a better place than the way you found it!