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More States Took In Expired Meds in 2009

More States Took In Expired Meds in 2009

Associated Press

January 21, 2010

LAYTON, Utah – A steel mailbox-sized bin in the lobby of a police department in northern Utah was full again, crammed with half-full prescription bottles, over-the-counter cold meds and even an odd topical cream from 1983.

“It’s anything and everything,” Layton police evidence supervisor Holly Plotnick said as she and a co-worker transferred 28 pounds of medications into a garbage bag and readied it for the incinerator.

The program is one of dozens around the country as communities ramp up efforts to clean out America’s medicine cabinets by setting up drop-boxes or other disposal methods for people to dump their unused and expired prescription drugs. At least 20 states now have collection programs for unused medications, and several saw record hauls in 2009.

Many of the programs were initially motivated by concerns about flushed pharmaceuticals reaching drinking water supplies. A 2008 Associated Press investigation found at least 46 million Americans are supplied with drinking water that has tested positive for traces of pharmaceuticals.

The programs are also surging for another reason: prescription drug overdoses. Utah, for instance, saw a 500 percent jump in the number of deaths attributed to pain medications between 1999 and 2007.

“A lot of the pharmaceuticals sold on the street or consumed by young people come out of home medicine cabinets,” said Terry Keefe, chief of police in Layton, a city of 65,000. “This is one attempt to reduce the availability of these type of drugs.”

The police department’s medication dropbox in Layton — one of 37 in police stations across Utah — took in 738 pounds in 2009. The box sometimes takes just days to fill up.

The drugs are a concern because of their threat to the environment, too. Researchers also have found evidence that even extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical residues can harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species in the wild.

Advocates say the 90 or so take-back programs across the country are a good start but not well-funded enough to expand to a mass scale. Some are floating legislation to have pharmaceutical companies foot the bill, modeling the idea on similar state laws requiring electronics manufacturers to cover the costs of recycling TVs and computers.

“The biggest barrier to the takebacks is funding,” said Scott Cassel, director of the Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute, which works with governments and others on environmental issues. “None of these states or local governments really have the money to take an action that will fully resolve the environmental issues or reduce that impact.”

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