Another opportunity to safely discard unwanted or expired prescription drugs – and help protect drinking water from potential contaminants – will be held at locations throughout the Brazos River basin during the 14th National Prescription Take Back Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 28.

Water treatment plants purify drinking water by removing a number of contaminants; however, the filtration devices at these plants were not designed to remove pharmaceutical drugs from the water. The best way to prevent these drugs from entering drinking water is to dispose of them properly. That’s one of the goals of National Take Back Day, a team effort of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and law enforcement agencies across the country. The program also aims to prevent the improper use of prescription drugs.

More than 4,200 law enforcement agencies from throughout the nation participated in the 13th National Take Back Day, held April 29 of this year. The efforts included 239 agencies in Texas manning 306 collection sites. The total weight of discarded prescription drugs collected nationwide on April 29 was 900,386 pounds – more than 450 tons. In Texas, more than 72,361 pounds of old prescription drugs were collected that day.

Since the program began in September 2010, more than 8.1 million pounds of these drugs have been safely collected through National Take Back Day.

"Too often, unused prescription drugs find their way into the wrong hands. That's dangerous and often tragic,” said the DEA’s Chuck Rosenberg. “That's why it was great to see thousands of folks from across the country clean out their medicine cabinets and turn in -- safely and anonymously -- a record amount of prescription drugs." 

Mary Buzby, director of environmental technology for pharmaceutical company Merck, was quoted by NBC News as recognizing the presence of drugs in drinking water is a concern. “There’s no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they’re at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms,” she said.

The Focus for Health Foundation also shines a spotlight on this important issue.

“One of the ways drugs get into our water supply is that people are flushing their unused prescriptions down the toilet,” an article for Focus for Health notes. “While water from sewage is filtered and chlorinated, the drugs remain in the water. The particulate is too fine to be caught in any city sewer filtration system. But, if you test the water, there they are. Anything from epilepsy drugs, to antibiotics, to diabetes drugs, to antidepressants are found in our water supply.”

An effective way to help keep the drugs from entering the water supply is to participate in outreach efforts like those which take place during National Take Back Day.

“We share the public’s concerns regarding the potential environmental impact of disposing of unused medicines in household trash, or by flushing,” said Dr. Douglas C. Throckmorton, deputy director for regulatory programs in the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “We are working with other agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to better understand the human health and ecological risks from medicines in our water and have a shared overall goal of reducing medicine levels in our water.”

A list of communities hosting Take Back Day events can be found by clicking here.

If your community is not listed as participating in the Take Back Day, you can contact your local health district or law enforcement agency for information on local programs available for medication disposal.