Unwanted Prescription Meds? UPMC Sponsoring Take Back Drugs Day

By Cristina Mestre

Did you know that traces of pharmaceuticals can be found in the drinking water supply of more than 46 million Americans and in 80 percent of U.S. streams? These include substances such as antibiotics, anti-convulsants, pain medications, anti-depressants, sex hormones, livestock growth hormones, cosmetics and more.

According to Allison Robinson, director of environmental initiatives at UPMC, many medications, especially pills and capsules, are not fully absorbed by our bodies, so when we urinate the residue is flushed down the toilet. Also, unwanted drugs are often poured down sinks or flushed, or sent to the landfill, where they can leach into groundwater supplies and affect wellwater sources. Veterinary hormones and antibiotics used for livestock can seep into our waterways from large agriculture facility sanitization or stormwater runoff.

Current drinking water and wastewater treatment processes cannot remove drugs from water. Thus, residual drugs remain in water for an unknown period. Ingestion of trace drugs by aquatic animals and plants demonstrate the potential risk to disrupt hormones, lower fertility, increase cancer risks and antibiotic resistance, according to some experts. 

With many risks still unknown, evidence of harmful effects have been seen in aquatic animals. For example, more than 80 percent of male smallmouth bass in Washington, D.C.,’s Potomac River tributaries have female parts, shellfish exposed to Prozac spawn prematurely, and antibiotics inhibit aquatic plant growth.

How can we avoid such contaminations? Robinson suggests the following:

UPMC is holding a Take Back Drugs Day on Oct. 25 at several UPMC locations. You can drop off unwanted and expired prescription and nonprescription over-the-counter medications stored in their original containers from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the following locations:  
Other  community collection events will be held Saturday, Oct. 26. Scroll down to "Collection Site Locator," insert your Zip code, and a list of nearby collection sites will appear.

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