The old Deep Purple song spoke about smoke on the water, now unfortunately Minnesotans can hum the song to new lyrics. These new lyrics can contain words about hormones, Prozac, Sudafed, antibiotics, and various narcotic drugs that are prescription and over the counter that are feeding into our ground water. How does that happen? People flush or throw their unwanted drugs in the sewer or the garbage systems and that means the ground water gets contaminated. In the movies it sometimes shows someone or someone evil flushing the birth control pills down the drain and it seems innocent. When this innocent flushing happens in real life, hormones enter into the water system to contaminate the ground water.
There has been a new local program established by the Chisago County Sheriff’s Department and implemented at the North Branch Police Department that could be the model for the entire country. Chisago County has provided an anonymous drop box to drop off unused prescription drugs. The box is in the police stations basement for the citizens of Chisago County to use. The North Branch Police just ask that removal of the name from the bottles to be done, but to please keep the name of the prescription on the bottles, this way they can identify what category the drug goes under for the log-in requirements, no questions will be asked.
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Sally Ring from Northern Minnesota died last summer; she had about 30 high powered prescriptions to keep her out of pain and to help control the breakdown of her body. Her grief stricken husband Don had nowhere to take these high power drugs after she died. He knew it was a liability to leave them in his home since he would be gone most of the winter. This dilemma happens all the time to people. He fortunately knew someone from Illinois that could dispose of them at a site there, others are not so fortunate. With no where for disposal of these drugs; the toilet, the wastebasket, or the prescriptions sit on a shelf with the chance of someone stealing them happens. People are now looking to find a safe place where they can dispose of these unwanted drugs.
On the FDA’s website it is suggested to flush most of the unwanted medicines in the toilet. There is a list of the drugs such as Oxycontin and Percocet that the FDA has okayed to be flushed; the rest of the drugs not on the flushing list were designated to the landfill. These government standards acknowledges that this may cause trouble with groundwater but feel it is a minimal concern compared to the wrongful consumption by children, adults and pets. Nationwide the FDA guidelines have no uniform way to dispose of these drugs.
‘In a study recently published in the journal “Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry,” a team of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists reported that pharmaceuticals in wastewater used for irrigation persist in soil for several months after the irrigation stopped for the season.” This is one of many quotes that are from the USGS Web Site which is reporting closely on the research being done about water contamination by pharmaceutical drugs. This site has dozens of reports that show the problems that our country is facing with contamination due to the way these drugs are disposed of.
Sheriff Ken Schreck of the Chisago County Police Department said the reason that he got involved with this pilot program is that he found burglars usually went looking for the prescription meds first when breaking into a place. It is easier to move drugs than a 54″ television and it is easier to sell. This program Sheriff Schreck felt would also cut down on some of the teenage drug abuse. He reported that many times an invited teenage guest would go through the medicine cabinet and take a few meds out of several prescription bottles leaving no one the wiser; this frequent scenario is a mistake waiting to explode. Teenagers are susceptible to gaining their drugs from Grandma’s and Uncle’s medicine cabinets and this has lead to some dangerous outcomes. “I feel this program has stopped many emergency room visits,” said Paul Denizen from Chisago County Household Hazardous Waste where the program is monitored.
Sheriff Schreck recently went to the Minnesota House Of Representatives to support File 1217 about 1217 becoming a model to be translated into state language. House File 1217 was introduced to the Environment Policy and Oversight Committee in 2009 and was up for debate about the feasibility of being promoted to all communities. Sheriff Schreck reiterated several times on the Minnesota Legislative TV channel testifying at the Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee that he would like to see a common language established by House File1217. He felt the need for this model was great and should be introduced to all counties in Minnesota. Legislators inquired about the cost; Sheriff Schreck informed them that for the size of his county Chisago it would cost the county approximately $5000. Of the five thousand only one thousand dollars was used by Chisago County for administrative fees. Part of the budget was spent on logging in the meds which is being done by an outside firm; the rest of the funds are spent on the transportation to Illinois and drug disposal.
The local druggist at Anderson Drug in Cambridge was asked if he knew of any place to dispose of old prescription medications. He did not, and was interested that they had such a program in North Branch a neighboring city. The Isanti County Sheriff’s Office said they did not have a program for drug disposal either, and made a referral to Family Services because of the drug services they offered. Paul Denisen from Household Hazards Waste in Chisago County reported that this program had to be under the jurisdiction of the police department because of the controlled substance aspect of it. Therefore such an agency such as Family Services could not monitor this drug disposal program.
Sheriff Schreck is trying to alleviate this problem of counties not knowing how to deal disposal of unwanted drugs. He has spoken all around our state and the United States about this model program. It is a simple program in Chisago County where two officers have the key for the anonymous lock box; they are responsible for taking the drugs to the police evidence room where the drugs await cataloguing. When it reaches a certain capacity they call the specialized cataloguing company to prepare the drugs for transporting to Illinois. When the transport arrives at Illinois’s drug depository, the drugs are then rechecked and then destroyed. Chisago’s County recent unwanted prescription collection was 400#, quite a substantial amount for a small community. This program is sponsored by Chisago County Police Department and handled at the North Branch Police Station.
House File 1217 now modified in 2010 and has recently passed March 25th, 2010 in the Minnesota House of Representatives and is now in the Senate. If it finally passes it may be an effective way to deal with these unwanted prescription drugs. The legislators have voiced concerns over state intervention and the quagmire it could flesh out if they got involved. House File 1217 wants drug companies to help incur costs for the disposal of these unwanted drugs. It may be a bit grandiose to envision a speedy conclusion by the Senate as it is still making its way through committees. The goal that is attainable now is any citizen can ask their police department if they are aware of this Chisago County program in North Branch. This could be a program that helps the environment, stops crime, and save lives and this can be done by community involvement.
Community involvement can flourish by contacting the citizen’s local county Sheriff’s Department and inform the department about Paul Denizens from Chisago County Household Hazard Waste at 651-237-0912. Denizen has answers to unwanted prescription drug maintenance, and he would be glad to inform other counties of the Chisago County program. Sheriff Ken Schrek has also spoken with groups about his Unwanted Drug Collection Program, which he features answers on how to get unwanted prescription drugs off the street and out of the water. The Sheriff, Denizen and Chisago County are willing to help other counties be informed about this program that has been keeping their community safe and green.