Safe Disposal of Medications


The Maine State Sheriff’s Association is sponsoring a Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, April 25, 2015. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with many state agencies, recommend medicine take-back programs as the best way to dispose of unwanted medicines.

Disposing of our medication in a safe, secure, and responsible manner is important. It safeguards our families and pets and helps protect our environment. The DEA sees the proper disposal of medicines as a public safety and public health issue. They note that drugs languishing in home medicine cabinets are at risk of being diverted, misused, abused, or accidentally ingested.

In the past we were told to dispose of our medicines down the toilet or in the trash. These are no longer considered the safest and best way of disposal. Think of it this way: By pouring drugs down the drain, flushing them down the toilet or dumping them in landfills, the problem is not solved but transferred to the water we rely on and the environment we live in.

Scientists have found measurable amounts of medications in rivers, streams, estuaries, ground water, and drinking water, as well as in soils and sediments. Drugs that have been identified include antibiotics, antidepressants, blood thinners. heart medications, hormones, painkillers, and anti-seizure drugs among others. Unfortunately, septic tank systems and municipal water and sewage treatment facilities currently are not designed to eliminate all pharmaceutical contamination. There is no question that trace amounts of many drugs are found in our drinking water.

It is not known what effect this cocktail of low level medications may have on humans. Many are worried about the possible cumulative effect on people and especially on vulnerable populations like pregnant women and the elderly. In contrast to the unknown potential health effects on humans, there is solid evidence for pharmaceuticals in the water having adverse effects on aquatic life, including fish, frogs, mussels and lobsters. For example, small amounts of hormones are known to cause reproductive and behavior disorders in fish. Antidepressants have been shown to cause unusual aggressive behavior in lobsters.

Throwing unwanted medicines in the trash is problematical, too. It does not prevent drug theft because, as the DEA states, drugs thrown in the trash, even if mixed with coffee grounds or kitty litter, can be retrieved and abused or illegally sold. It does not prevent children from accidental poisonings because it doesn’t ensure curious kids can’t get at them. The same goes for pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) publicizes the fact that over-the-counter and prescription medicines are the leading cause of poisoning in our pets. Discarded in landfills, disposed medicine can contaminate animals, land, and water.

How many unwanted medications are out there? Hard to know, but indications are a lot. A Mayo Clinic report says that nearly 7 out of 10 Americans take prescription drugs. The DEA and its law enforcement partners ran nine National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days over four years, collecting a total of 4,823,251 pounds (2,411 tons) of unused prescription drugs. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and three U.S. territories took part in this initiative. On the final national take-back day last September, Mainers turned in 19,060 pounds of pharmaceuticals. On many of the take-back days Maine ranked number one in drug take backs per capita.

When Congress enacted the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, amending the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), it authorized the DEA to implement regulations to provide convenient ongoing disposal opportunities for unwanted pharmaceuticals. Now that these regulations have been developed and approved the federally sponsored take-back days have been discontinued. Local law enforcement agencies are allowed to continue to hold take-back events and provide other means for safe disposal. Maine now has over 60 sites with prescription drop boxes in which to place your unwanted medicines. Here in Lincoln County the Sheriff’s office provides this service, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is located at 42 Bath Road in Wiscasset in the brick building across from the fire station. The secure prescription drop box is located downstairs, inside the door facing Route 1. The Damariscotta Police Department, 21 School Street, will also accept unwanted medicines for disposal from their local citizens, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Of course, the Maine Sheriff’s Association is sponsoring a state Take Back Day. So go ahead, start your spring cleaning by getting rid of your unwanted and potentially dangerous medications easily and safely. You will be participating in a program that safeguards our families and pets, preserves water quality, and helps protect aquatic life and ecosystems. Good for you!
Here’s when and where to go:
Saturday April 25, 2015, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm:

  • Wiscasset: Lincoln County Communications Center, behind the Courthouse, next to the Sheriff’s Office
  • Waldoboro: Sproul Block, 8 Friendship Street
  • Damariscotta: Miles Memorial Hospital, 35 Miles Street
  • Whitefield: Sheepscot Valley Health Center, 47 Main Street

By Louise Riley, Member of the Keep Pemaquid Peninsula Beautiful Steering Committee

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