October 31, 2014

Drug drop-off programs falling short

A new report shows programs that encourage people to turn in unused prescription drugs are not working as well as officials had hoped.

The study commissioned by the Department of Natural Resources found very few people are taking advantage of programs throughout Wisconsin that allow them to drop off old drugs so they can be destroyed. It estimates only about two percent of the old drugs that should be going to the drop-offs actually make it there, which results in continued environmental and public safety risks.

Brad Wolbert with the DNR says the study estimates about 4.4 million pounds of prescription drugs go unused each year. With only about two percent being left at various drop off sites, that means millions of pounds worth of old medications are being flushed down toilets or ending up in landfills. Wolbert says most municipal wastewater treatment plants are not set up to filter out those ingredients, which results in the drugs showing up in water supplies.

For drugs that are not thrown out, having them just sitting around the house can pose a risk to the health of family members who might take them be accident. Wolbert says it can also attract criminals who try to sell them.

Wolbert says collection programs have had trouble catching on because drop-off sites are limited. Many counties may offer just one central site or they may only hold collection events every few months. Site availability is also limited because programs often lack funding.

Wolbert says recently recommended changes to federal regulations could make it easier for collection sites to open in the future, possibly allowing drop-offs in locations such as a local pharmacy. Currently, many sites are hosted in police departments because of laws meant to keep controlled substances from landing in the wrong hands.

The report argues an increase in funding for statewide educational campaigns would help stress the need for the public to properly dispose of unwanted medications. It also suggests more funding to operate sites would expand opportunities for people to get rid of them.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:01)