Many people unknowingly dispose of unwanted medicines improperly by flushing them down the toilet, pouring them down the sink, or tossing them in the trash. This behavior creates hazards for the environment and public health.
Even minute doses of medications have been shown to have dramatic affects on aquatic life. Research studies have concluded that the amounts of estrogen-related chemicals (e.g. synthetic hormones and chemicals that mimic hormones) detected in rivers and streams cause abnormal development in fish. For example, the feminization of male fish affects their ability to reproduce, which could cause a catastrophic decline in the population as a whole. Laboratory-based studies have shown dramatic impacts on fish sex ratios from exposure to hormones, with some fish populations becoming 100% female.
The majority of wastewater treatment plants do not remove many chemicals found in medicines people commonly use. A June 2008 study done by the Illinois EPA showed a number of chemicals in river water samples taken downstream from wastewater treatment plants including antibiotics, blood pressure medication, anti-inflammatory drugs, caffeine, and medications for blood pressure and cholesterol.
By properly disposing of unwanted and unused medications we can reduce the amount of chemicals we are putting into our streams. Currently, the United States does not have national legislation for medication donation and return programs. In Illinois, there are only three permanent hazardous waste facilities that accept medications; they are all located in northern Illinois.
Some communities hold hazardous waste take-back days where medications and controlled substances can be turned in for disposal. However, these events may not be scheduled at a time and place that is convenient for all residents.
A few Illinois communities have permanent take-back programs in place. The success of these programs resulted from creating partnerships that included local and county officials, pharmacies, and interested citizens and community groups. Unfortunately, all but one of these programs is in northern or central Illinois.
As pharmacies dispense prescriptions and sell over-the-counter medications to customers, they are a critical partner for developing medication take-back programs in their communities and counties. It is time for Illinois citizens to demand that pharmacies become active participants in creating opportunities for the safe and proper disposal of unwanted and unused medicines.
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We, the undersigned legal residents of Illinois, recognize that chemicals from improperly disposed medications are negatively affecting the health of fish and other organisms living in our rivers and streams. We also know that we can prevent many of these chemicals from entering our rivers and streams by establishing permanent take-back programs so that all Illinois residents are able to properly dispose of their unwanted and unused medications.
We also recognize that successful, permanent medicine take-back programs require the support of pharmacists and pharmacies throughout Illinois, as well as their active participation in partnerships formed to develop and implement these programs. As a primary source of prescription sales, pharmacies provide a convenient and secure drop-off location for unwanted and unused medicines.
For these reasons, we demand that private, corporate, and hospital-owned pharmacies in Illinois accept unused, unwanted medications from the public at their stores and facilities for proper disposal. By collecting medications and properly disposing of them, pharmaceutical and medical professionals will provide a needed and invaluable service to the public while helping protect Illinois streams and water resources for the people, fish, and wildlife that depend on them for survival.
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