Could Minnesota Start a Take-Back Trend for Pills?

bottle of pills photo

Photo via erix! via Flickr CC

I will never forget years ago having to go through my grandmother's medicine cabinet and emptying bottle after bottle after bottle of various medications. We had piles of them that we were told by hospice couldn't be donated or returned, or even put into the trash. We were told to just flush them. My mom and I spent the better part of an hour dumping them all down the sink. This was well before I was so engaged in being green, and neither of us knew better. We had no idea about what putting pharmaceuticals down the drain does to ecosystems. My stomach turns just thinking about it now. Yet this is an all-too-common scene. Could a new law proposed by Minnesota for a take-back program for pills be the beginning of ensuring this doesn't happen, and pharmaceuticals stay out of our water systems?PlanetSave reports, "The U.S. Geological Survey has published a series of reports detailing the presence of pharmaceuticals in America's waters, either excreted by consumers or flushed down the toilet after some use or when the medications are no longer needed or wanted. Some government agencies -- including some that regulate nursing homes, for example -- urge or even require flushing of such medications, which sewage plants are unable to treat effectively."

However, a popular drug Take-Back program run in Minnesota has inspired a legislative proposal in the 2010 session. The legislation would create an entire network of collection facilities funded in part by the pharmaceutical makers, putting product responsibility back on the shoulders of the manufacturers.

DFL Rep. Paul Gardner of Shoreview has proposed a measure for safer, less expensive disposal of drugs: "What I have in the bill is a product stewardship system similar to what we have for electronic wastes," Gardner said. "You'd be able to bring in your old drugs to a venue your county chooses, and the costs for that would be covered mostly by the pharmaceutical companies."

The drug companies state that these programs wouldn't go far at all to solve the problem, saying that not only do people excrete more than they throw away, but that it would also add to the cost of medication.

However, keeping any amount out of water systems is better than doing nothing, and Gardner points out a similar program in Washington state adds a mere three cents or less to the cost of a prescription.

With few options for proper disposal of medications, and most medical facilities - as well as consumers - being told to just flush whatever they're hoping to get rid of, perhaps take-back legislation like this is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Find out more about Minnesota's pill problem at MPR news
Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
More on Flushing Pills
How to Get Rid of Unused Prescription Medication
Drugs Are In Our Water! Should I Switch to Bottled?
Keep Fish off Drugs: Don't Flush Your Pills

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