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Drug companies should help dispose of unneeded medicines

Thursday, March 17, 2016
Chicago Sun-Times
by Editorial Board

Drugs that collect in medicine cabinets are damaging public health and tainting our environment. We need a better way to dispose of them. A proposal before the Cook County Board to require pharmaceutical companies to play a bigger role in the proper disposal of their products would be a significant step forward. On Thursday, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District went on record in favor of the concept, which is patterned after similar programs set up by counties in California and Washington state. The County Board should follow that recommendation and enact the ordinance when it comes up for a vote next week. This week, the New York Times reported the nation is facing “one of the worst public health crises” in decades as huge numbers of people overdose on prescription drugs, including opiates. EDITORIAL One source of those overdoses is leftover painkillers. A 2009 report by a Washington state consortium of government, businesses and nonprofits estimated 10 to 33 percent of prescribed medicines are not consumed. That’s a public health disaster waiting to happen. Some of those unused drugs are finding their way into the hands of people addicted to prescription medications. Even if people quickly dispose of drugs they don’t need, they often go about it the wrong way, either because they don’t know better or because there are no convenient options. Too often, they just toss the drugs into the garbage or flush them down the toilet. Either way, the medicines wind up in the environment, causing ecological havoc. A 2009 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago found 59 percent of Cook County respondents threw their unused medications in the garbage and 31.3 percent flushed them down toilets or sinks. Researchers are finding signs that hormones and pharmaceutical compounds released into waterways are making fish act sluggishly, eat less and, in the case of male fish, grow female organs. And, yes, it’s happening in Chicago area waterways. When National Geographic wanted to illustrate the array of medicine chest chemicals that get into fish, the magazine profiled fish pulled from Chicago’s North Shore Channel.


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