Amid concerns of prescription painkiller abuse, many pharmaceutical companies began printing directions on the bottle to flush any unused pills in the toilet. While this approach attempts to fix the problem of others accessing prescription pain pills from an unlocked medicine cabinet, Clark County’s Pain in the Drain program does one better. As it turns out, flushing away pills may lead to environmental concerns that we are only beginning to understand. Keeping prescription medicines both out of the hands of adolescents or other at-risk populations and out of water supplies are both equally important.

In a U.S. Geological Survey, water was tested from streams in 30 states during 1999 and 2000. Trace chemicals from human and veterinary drugs were found in 80% of the streams sampled. 

Researchers are still unsure of the effects of these compounds in water supplies, but the FDA and EPA have started to counsel the public to avoid this practice and dispose of prescription medicines in a more environmentally friendly manner. The FDA notes that many compounds in prescription medicines, but also any unused or expired over-the-counter treatments, are just not effectively destroyed in sewage treatment plants and may pose a risk to humans and wildlife alike.

In order to mitigate the risk to our water supply, as well as curb the abuse of prescription medicine, the Clark County Water Reclamation District organized the Pain in the Drain Medicine Disposal Program. In coordination with 20 local police stations, including those in Las Vegas, Boulder City, Mesquite, and Henderson, the Pain in the Drain program allows people to safely, and anonymously, dispose of unused medicines in secure drop-off boxes that are situated within the police department substations.

Pain in the Drain frequently empties the containers and disposes of the drugs within in a safe manner, keeping them out of the water and away from possible abuse. 

If you have any unused or expired prescription medications or over-the-counter medicines, take them to a licensed center in your neighborhood. You can find all cooperating substations at Pain in the Drain’s website. If unable to make it to one of these drop-off locations, follow these directions from the FDA on disposing of the medicine properly at home.

Image by Kai Schreiber via Flickr


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