Did you know that in 1998, European researchers stumbled upon a detectable amount of heart medicine while searching for the presence of a pesticide in the North Sea?
At the time, no scientist would have predicted that pharmaceutical products would be found in such a large body of water, but the reality is that pharmaceutical medications have been making their way into the environment and have become increasingly concentrated over the years.
Pharmaceuticals enter streams and rivers by means of improper industrial and personal disposal practices, and can pass unchanged from medicated humans or farm animals in their waste. Before the accidental discovery of medicine in the North Sea in 1998, there was little interest in studying the possibility of pharmaceutical chemicals could reach concentrations in bodies of water and the threat to humans or the environment.
Since 2002 the United States Geological Survey has published more than 160 reports that document the occurrence, concentration, and mixtures of these chemicals in various environmental compartments, including stream water, well water, stream sediment, and soil amended with manure and sludge.
A recent study by Dr. Karen A. Kidd from the University of New Brunswick, Canada demonstrated that the addition of the chemical compound ethinyl estradiol (a common active ingredient in birth control pills) at observable concentrations to an experimental lake in Canada caused feminization and the near extinction of a species of fish found in the lake.
Although the effects of long-term exposure to pharmaceuticals in the environment on human health are somewhat vague, the recent findings have warranted a proposal for immediate action and further research.
The federal Drug Enforcement Agency of America (DEA), along with cooperating pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies, have recently joined the battle against improper disposal of prescription medications. Instead of throwing prescriptions away in the garbage or flushing pills down the toilet, the DEA is joining local law enforcement and pharmacies on April 30, 2011 to collect unused and out-of date prescriptions that might otherwise be improperly disposed.
On April 30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., police stations and pharmacies around the nation will open their doors to citizens that would like to dispose their unused or expired medications to celebrate the second annual National Pharmaceutical Take Back Initiative Day.
Last year, over 121 tons of pharmaceutical medications were either unused or expired. Not only does this initiative benefit the environment, but it also minimizes the chance that chronic users will abuse these prescriptions drugs.
Three locations near KU will be collecting unused or expired medications to help the cause. The closest location is the Berks-Lehigh Regional Police Department, the Muhlenberg Township Police Department and the Giant Supermarket in Gilbertsville, Pa.
Anyone interested is encouraged to visit the DEA website at http://www.justice.gov/dea/ to search for locations—and to find the addresses to the locations above—near your home that will be collecting and safely disposing these unused prescription medications.