EGLE map, new video offer safe household medication disposal options

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Prescription Bottle

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy makes it simple to find household medication collection and disposal options with the interactive Household Drug Take Back Map, which is phone friendly, and its new companion “how to” video.

EGLE’s Drug Takeback Map helps residents find convenient collection locations across the state. Instead of flushing or tossing medications in the trash, takeback programs provide a safe disposal option that eliminates potential risk of unintentional poisoning of children or pets, and negative impact to the environment.

Most wastewater treatment plants and landfills are not equipped with technology to remove the chemicals in pharmaceuticals, which often don’t break down once in the environment. In a collection program, the drugs are incinerated under specific conditions that destroy active drug components.

“We’re hoping that pairing EGLE’s Drug Takeback Map with events like the Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Prescription Drug Takeback Day will collectively move the dial,” said Christine Grossman, who headed development of the map at EGLE. “These programs, along with collections sponsored by police, health care, retail and municipalities, increase awareness about proper dug disposal and make a significant difference across Michigan.”

At the DEA’s recent national takeback event, the agency collected nearly a million pounds of unused, expired and unwanted medications across the country ­– the largest amount ever collected in the program’s 10 years. Still that number has the potential of significantly increasing, with studies by Consumer Reports estimating that a third of Americans haven’t cleaned out their medicine cabinet in a year, and a fifth haven’t in three years or more.

Experts say proper disposal can prevent adverse effects on the environment resulting from flushing or throwing out medications. In fact, scientists in the United States and Europe studied surface water, groundwater and landfill leachate, and found that medications persist in these liquids at very low levels.

“Neither landfills nor water treatment systems are equipped with technology to remove the chemicals in pharmaceuticals, so flushing them or putting them in the trash is not a good option,” said Liz Browne, acting director of the Materials Management Division at EGLE. “Levels of medication in water will continue to rise if we don’t take action to manage our unwanted inventories.”

A complicating factor is that most medications used by people are not completely metabolized. Some are excreted and end up in wastewater treatment systems.

“Medications are present at low levels in the water across most of the United States and Europe, including our Great Lakes,” said Teresa Seidel, director of EGLE’s Water Resource Division. “Proper drug disposal is important to prevent drug abuse and preserve our water resources.”

While these low levels have no known health effects for people, studies have shown changes in fish, frogs, birds and bacteria as a result of pharmaceuticals in the environment. Stimulants and depressants have affected fish behavior and development. Some male fish have been found to have developed female eggs, and the stimulants and depressants have changed fish behavior.

Access the map, video and additional resources, along with federal research, at Michigan.gov/EGLEDrugDisposal. Additional information on drug abuse prevention and support is available at Michigan.gov/Opioids.

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