Ask Eartha: Why shouldn’t flush my old medications?
Dear Eartha, I went to the 9Health Fair last month and saw a prescription drop-off box. Do I really need to seek these out? Can’t I just flush my old medications? – Gary, Silverthorne
Gary, glad you made it to the 9Health Fair! It was a great event, and it just so happened to fall on the same weekend as National Prescription Take Back Day. Twice each year, the Drug Enforcement Administration hosts a national push to help residents properly dispose of unused mediations. The good news? Here in Summit County, you can drop off unused medications at any time of the year!
Residents can take their pick of three different drug drop-off locations. Secure collection bins are located at the Summit County Justice Center in Breckenridge, the Dillon Police Department and Prescription Alternatives in Frisco. Bring your unused, unwanted or expired medications – including both prescription and over the counter drugs – and drop them off for free. Yep, it’s that easy.
With several convenient drop-off options, I recommend getting those unused meds out of the house as quickly as possible. And to answer your original question: don’t flush medications, ever. Let’s dig a little deeper on why.
Not good for family
Drugs that sit unused in home medicine cabinets are highly susceptible to misuse and abuse. Easy availability of drugs can also lead to accidental poisoning.
Here in Colorado, the Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention found that 29 percent of residents have used pain medication prescribed for someone else. And according to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, 26 percent of Summit High School students think it’s easy to get prescription drugs without a prescription. It’s frightening, especially as the opioid epidemic shows no signs of slowing.
Some folks might be thinking, “What about the meds I actually need?” My advice is to be part of the solution. That means talking to your doctor and using your prescription as it’s intended to treat your condition. Make sure you store medications in a safe, ideally locked, location. Keep them secure and out of sight from children, teens, visitors and pets. And of course, get rid of those unused or expired medications as soon as possible – but never down the drain or toile
Not good for the environment
If you flush medications here in Summit County, they most likely pass through a wastewater treatment plant, or in some cases, a septic system. While treatment facilities effectively remove many drugs and contaminates, they don’t get rid of everything. What’s more, the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have testing guidelines for pharmaceuticals in drinking water.
This means that flushed drugs end up in drinking water, fish and other aquatic life. In fact, the US Geological Survey tested more than 130 streams, and 80 percent contained detectable amounts of prescription drugs. There’s little clarity on what this – small amounts of prescription drugs ingested over decades through drinking water – does to human health. It is affecting aquatic life, however.
So what’s the problem with a few dosed up fish? A lot, actually. Like humans, fish become more relaxed on antidepressants. And that means they’re less motivated to escape from predators. Some scientists worry that this could cause a decline or crash in certain fish populations and create a domino effect for entire freshwater ecosystems.
Even low concentrations of hormones from flushed birth control pills can cause genetic imbalances in fish, making it harder for them to catch food or reproduce. Again, there’s concern of a domino effect on the larger ecosystem.
Find a local take back box
As I mentioned earlier, we’re lucky here in the county to have several options for getting rid of old medications – the right way. And it’s all thanks to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Summit County Water Quality Committee, and the Summit County Sheriff’s Department. Make sure to visit HighCountryConservation.org for a complete list of what’s accepted at local take back boxes.
As you make room this holiday season for visiting family, friends and new toys, don’t forget to clear out those old and unused medications.
Summit County Justice Center
501 N. Park Ave., Breckenridge
Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday
Dillon Police Department
275 Lake Dillon Dr., Dillon
Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday
610 Main St., Frisco
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday