Posted by: Francis Koster Published: December 12, 2009

Recycling Pharmaceuticals Avoids Problems

Recycling Pharmaceuticals Avoids Problems

Collection of unused pharmaceuticals reduces water pollution and lowers risk of misuse.

by Jon Rhodes

Every day, 2,500 kids age 12 to 17 abuse a prescription painkiller for the first time [1] and about one-third of all U.S. drug abuse is prescription drug use. [2] Among 12- to 17-year-olds, girls are more likely than boys to use psychotherapeutic drugs nonmedically. 70% of teens who abuse prescription drugs admit to easily obtaining the drugs for free, primarily from friends and relatives.

A program was conducted in Salisbury North Carolina in late October of 2009 to attempt to collect unused and unneeded prescription drugs using volunteers and public drop off locations. “70 pounds of pills were collected (weighed after they were removed from the bottles), 20 pounds of needles, 87 pounds of over-the-counter meds (liquids, etc.) and six huge bags of empty medicine bottles.” [3] That is a total of 157 pounds of medicine not entering into the water system or being misused. This helps prevent access of unused or out dated medicines. It eliminates one’s own home as a resource for drug abuse. 

Other communities are also conducting such collections. In March 2009 the Charlotte - Mecklenburg Police Department and the NC State Bureau of Investigation, in conjunction with seven Harris Teeter locations in Mecklenburg County performed a community service called Operation Medicine Drop. The purpose of the operation was to provide the community a safe, reliable way to dispose of unused or out dated medicines.

There are some financial advantages to communities which have programs such as Operation Medicine Drop. In the long run, this can help prevent community members from developing addicting habits. “A report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) calculates that the average cost for treatment of alcohol or other drug addiction in outpatient facilities was $1,433 per course of treatment in 2002 and that residential treatment cost $3,840 per admission. For outpatient methadone treatment, the 2002 cost was $7,415 per admission. ‘Treatment is a bargain compared to expenditures for jails, foster care for children, and health complications that often accompany addiction,’ said SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie.” [4]

A second advantage of this program is the prevention of incorrect disposal. There are many cases where people throw old medicines down the drain. “A recent investigation by the Associated Press found a whole host of pharmaceuticals-including antibiotics, pain medication, anti-depressants, sex hormones, heart and blood pressure medicine-in the drinking water supplies of more than 40 million Americans,” said Donna Lisenby from Watauga Riverkeeper. A study conducted by Appalachian State University concluded that 60-65% of male hognose and white suckers were being influenced by pharmaceutical estrogens (birth control and estrogen supplements). [5] There is concern among scientist that these chemicals are impacting human sexuality as well. 



[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[3] Perry, Robin, Salisbury Post. Operation Medicine Cabinet a Success. Tuesday, October 27, 2009 Web. Dec. 8 2009. <>

[4]SAMHSA Report Shows Cost of Addiction Treatment<> source from JoinTogether Online

[5] Riverkeeper. Saving Our Kids and Rivers From Drugs: Operation Medicine Cabinet will launce for the first time in the High Country on October 3, 2009. October 2nd, 2009 Web. Dec. 8 2009. <>

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