Drug take-back events slated for Saturday in McLennan County and around the country will help residents dispose of leftover medications that can pose a public health risk in more ways than one.
Police departments use the events as a tool to curb prescription drug abuse, but those drugs can also pose a secondary threat if they’re disposed of in the sewer system, scientists at Baylor University say.
Baylor’s Center for Reservoir & Aquatic Systems Research sees medication in wastewater systems as a public health issue on its own. Scientists there have found that common pharmaceuticals accumulate in fish that live downstream of wastewater treatment plants, affecting their behavior.
CRASR Environmental Education Specialist Melissa Mullins said medications are carried to wastewater treatment plant two different ways. Either someone flushes them, or the medication passes through a patient’s body without fully being metabolized.
“Depending on what compound it is, the wastewater treatment plant may or may not remove those pharmaceutical products,” Mullins said. “The compounds are all different. A lot of those products can pass through wastewater treatment plants.”
Mullins said researchers are still studying what impact a build-up of pharmaceutical products in waterways will have over time. She said the other big concern is antibiotic-resistant bacteria development in wastewater as a result of exposure to antibiotics.
“Just as it would be any place, if bacteria develops resistance to drugs we’re trying to use to treat them, they won’t be as effective because they evolve very quickly,” Mullins said.
She said prophylactic antibiotics from livestock operations and veterinary medications can end up in waterways as well, heightening the risk of resistance.
“There’s a lot of different routes of entry,” she said. “It ends up in the environment one way or another, and everything washes downstream when it rains.”
Mullins said take-back events are by far the best way to dispose of old medications. The Drug Enforcement Administration created the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day in part to combat abuse of prescription drugs, particularly opioids.
Waco, Hewitt, Robinson, Woodway and Baylor Police Departments are all participating with drop boxes open to the public, and will accept old medications from the public for free and without question. Waco Police Department started Friday and will continue through the weekend until Monday morning and Robinson Police Department will continue collecting through Sunday, but other departments will only participate on Saturday.
Drop boxes are available at the following locations:
- Waco Police Department, 3115 Pine Ave.,
- Baylor University Police Department, 1521 S. Fourth St.,
- Hewitt Police Department, 100 Patriot Court,
- Robinson Police Department, 111 West Lyndale, and
- Woodway Public Safety Department, 920 Estates Drive.
The departments cannot accept needles, inhalers, aerosol cans, hydrogen peroxide, or thermometers.
Larry Adams, assistant public safety director for the Woodway Police Department, said last year his department collected six large trash bags full of medication.
“We see the amount of prescriptions turned into us, and just knowing that those aren’t making their way out onto the street, that’s a pretty good way of gauging it,” Adams said.
Adams said Woodway has been participating in the events for five years, and usually holds one in spring and another in fall.
“The DEA was seeing a rise in prescription drug abuse and opioids getting out on the street, so they started this as a way for people to empty their medicine cabinets and start turning those in before they fall into the wrong hands,” Adams said.
He said the police departments are only collecting personal medications, not large commercial amounts, and reiterated that they won’t be equipped to collect syringes or other sharp objects.