Why isn’t there a medicine take-back near me?

Not all  pharmacies have the funding to provide a take-back program. Every police department, and every City of Milwaukee District Police Station, has a drop box for your unused medicine. Our coalition’s goal is to have a drop box for unused medicine in every pharmacy in Milwaukee County.

What’s wrong with throwing my medicines in the garbage or flushing them down the toilet?

not-in-the-toilet-not-in-the-trash-logo_smallAbout 30% of medicines are not used. Pharmaceuticals can pollute our waterways when drugs are flushed down the toilet or thrown in the trash. When prescriptions are improperly disposed of by flushing them down the toilet, they make their way through the sewer system which empties into Lake Michigan – they source of Milwaukee County’s drinking water. Recent studies by the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences showed the presence of intact pharmaceutical compounds up to three miles from sewer outfalls – meaning they are not breaking down. Drugs thrown in the trash end up in landfill leachate which is processed at wastewater treatment plants that can’t filter out prescription drugs.

How are prescription drugs impacting drug abuse?

Prescription drugs are becoming the first exposure youth have to illegal drugs. More than three in five teens say prescription pain relievers are easy to get from parents’ medicine cabinets. The easy availability of prescriptions is a major factor in overdose – which is the leading cause of accidental death in Milwaukee.

How do chemicals from medicines in the water affect me?

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the water have been linked to endocrine (hormone) disruption, which can have an effect on:

  • Cardiopulmonary and reproductive systems
  • Endocrine systems (diabetes, cancers, obesity)
  • The nervous system (learning disabilities, Alzheimers, Parkinsons)

Early exposure effects human development and increases risk of future disease. Exposure can have multi-generational impacts. Another concern is the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from antibiotics in the environment. More research is needed to definitively pinpoint human health risks.

tbym_pile-of-pills_cropped-headerHow do chemicals from medicines in the water affect the environment?

We know the impacts to our ecosystem are greatly impacted. Prescription drugs can contain mercury, selenium and other heavy metals that pollute our air, ground and water. A nationwide study done in 1999 and 2000 by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) found low levels of drugs such as antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives, and steroids in 80% of the rivers and streams tested. More recently and closer to home, a Minnesota study detected 24 different pharmaceuticals present in their lakes. And in Lake Michigan, 32 pharmaceuticals and personal care products were found near Milwaukee.The presence of those drugs in waterways can have a huge impact on fish populations, with links to abnormalities and impaired reproductive systems in aquatic species. There has been evidence of fish changing sexes, and large groups of fish having vastly higher female populations than male.

More recently, scientists have been studying the impacts of other drugs like behavioral medications, and finding that their presence in waterways changes the behavior of aquatic species, and make them slower and more susceptible to predators, potentially causing far-reaching ecological impacts. One study showed the presence of certain medicine residue made fish “fearless, gluttonous and anti-social,” causing them to break away from their school, and become easier prey. Another study showed that these fish can eat more zooplankton, which is responsible for controlling algae, causing a greater occurrence of algae blooms.

How are the medicines collected by take-back programs destroyed?

The collected medicines are disposed by high temperature incineration at a secure permitted facility. This is the most environmentally sound disposal method which ensures the chemicals are completely destroyed.

Can’t I donate unused prescriptions?

Wisconsin allows for certain pharmacies to take back unit doses of drugs for cancer and chronic diseases. Certain drugs can be returned for re-issuance through the Wisconsin Drug Repository. There are very few cases in which other drugs can be donated. More information on donating medical items.