The path pharmaceuticals take to impacting our environment start in the medicine cabinets of over 41 billion Americans nationwide who are prescribed a pharmaceutical, according to Dan McBee, Executive Director of the New Echota Rivers Alliance (NERA).
Getting rid of unused, old or excess unneeded pills in medicine cabinets or anywhere greatly reduces the possibility of the drugs falling into the wrong hands.
Not only are pills dangerous for children to get their hands on, but the eventual road to our waterways, contaminating and polluting the limited amount of drinking water on which human life so desperately depends, hangs in the balance of human responsibility to protect the environment.
Inaction may be simple but only leads to deadly consequences. Merely understanding all the options can protect the one percent of drinkable water humans have on earth.
Down the Drain
“Are drugs in our rivers and streams a problem in Gordon County? The answer is yes,” said McBee. “Where are these drugs coming from? Prescriptions. Approximately four billion prescriptions are written every year and that number continues to rise.”
Currently, wastewater treatment plants nationally do not have any ways to screen for or remove pharmaceuticals that pass through the treatment plants, according to John Banks, Plant superintendent at Calhoun’s City wastewater treatment facility.
“As we are aware, pharmaceuticals have exploded in the last 50 years. People are living a longer, better quality of life because of these pharmaceuticals and miracle drugs we now have available to us,” said Banks.
However, there are unseen consequences with the benefits of living longer.
“Some pharmaceuticals don’t completely break down in your body as they pass through, which means they end up at my wastewater treatment facility,” said Banks. “A majority of today’s wastewater treatment plants are not designed to, nor can they, remove many of these pharmaceuticals.”
He went onto say that some of the medications pass right through the plant with little removal. They end up in the rivers where somebody is downstream, turning that river into drinking water.
To implement a system capable of monitoring water quality, according to Banks, would cost billions and billions of dollars to update and rebuild a new facility.
“This is one of those cases where there is not enough money in the foreseeable future to do the type of treatment to ensure that there is no pass through of these pharmaceuticals,” said Banks.
Though some prescriptions may instruct users to flush certain pills, most major painkillers, etc. are not to be flushed.
In the case of disposing of pills the easy way, there is no lesser of two evils. Throwing unused prescription pills away sends them straight to the local landfill, where rain will wash those pills back in the waterways.
“We regulate what goes into our landfills. Commercial quantities of hazardous waste of drugs are prohibited from landfills, however, household quantities are not,” said Chris Johnson with Santek Waste Services. “If you are throwing a bottle of prescription drugs away, legally you can do that, but you are potentially harming the environment by doing so,” he said.
Johnson explained the anatomy of a landfill and that along with rainwater, other liquid which comes from trash dumped into the landfill all flows to a central drain.
“What you need to think about is your landfill is just like a bathtub. It’s an area where you put in trash with a drain,” said Johnson. “That drain collects what we call leachate. Leachate is water that has had contact with waste. Leachate is collected and put into a storage area and that storage area goes to the wastewater treatment plant.”
Currently, other than taking old prescriptions to local law enforcement agencies, there is only one way to properly dispose of prescriptions in Gordon County.
CVS Pharmacy offers the service to its customers for $3.99 for a disposal bag that is mailed to Carthage, Texas, where the prescriptions are properly disposed of through incineration.
The bag does not allow controlled prescriptions and lists 12 drugs that are considered “controlled”: Adderall, Ambien, Hydrocodone, Morphine, Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Percocet, Phentermine, Ritalin, Valium, Vicoden, and Xanax.
However, many of the drugs listed are commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals and are the source of many pharmaceutical addictions.
The Gordon County Chamber of Commerce’s Drugs Don’t Work Committee will host a Drug Take Back Event in Gordon County, Saturday, April 21 at five different locations where anyone can bring expired, or unused legal or illegal drugs for proper disposal, no questions asked.
In the city of Calhoun, drugs can be dropped off at The Home Depot, and at 328 W. Line Street (corner of Line street and River street near the armory) across the street from high Tech Fuels.
In Gordon County, there will be drop-offs at the Gordon County Sheriff’s Office, Sonoraville Recreation Complex and the Plainville Recreation Department.
“Get these prescription drugs off of the street and out of the home,” said Moss. “Also, if there are parents or loved ones with illegal drugs, we encourage them to bring them and turn them in. There will be no questions asked.”
According to McBee, a previous drug take back event in a three-hour window yielded an unprecedented 200 pounds of prescription drugs.
“How successful can this program be? A little over two years ago, a waste water treatment program did very little advertising basically just a couple of fliers and in a three hour program, they had 50 people show up, this is the kicker right here,” explained McBee. “Of those 50 mostly elderly people that came, they contributed over 200 pounds of prescription drugs. That’s basically four pounds per person, just amazing.”
Gordon County Sheriff Mitch Ralston, who also spoke at the Lunch and Learn, believes the program will be so successful it will attract residents outside of Gordon County.
“I think it’s awesome, and I think we will have a good turnout. I think we will have folks from other counties coming in to these areas to turn in stuff so we look forward to that,” said Ralston. “We will be prepared for them. We will have officers on each individual site to talk with them if they’ve got questions about it.”
The officers will be at each station for the safety of the members of the Drugs Don’t Work Committee.
Both the Gordon County Sheriff and the Calhoun City Chief of Police stress there will be no questions asked, and no names taken of anyone who brings legal or illegal drugs for disposal.
Proper disposal will be available at any local law enforcement agency for proper disposal at any time.