Columbus Officials: Prescription take back day protects our water sources

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Storing old prescription drugs in your home is dangerous for your family and friends, but disposing of them the wrong way is danger for everyone.

Saturday is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day and NBC4 met with experts on what you can do with unused prescriptions.

People think the easiest way to get rid of unwanted prescription pills is to flush them down the toilet, but experts say that can end up in our rivers and streams.

Columbus Public Utilities Spokesman George Zonders says anything flushed is treated at the wastewater plant. And although the treated water looks clear those downstream could be ingesting those drugs because most facilities do not regularly treat for prescription drugs dumped into the system.

“The amounts are minuscule where a lot of times current technology cannot detect them, but who is to say over a period of time or what particular amounts, what tiny amount might not have some cumulative effect,” Zonders said.

They just finished a $30 million upgrade at the water treatment plant to eliminate nitrates in the water.

Experts say it is not just concern over narcotics being flushed, it is any and all medications going down the drain.

“Any one of those can be flushed down the toilet, enter into the drinking water system, the agricultural system and there are residues that are measurable,” says Dr. Teresa Long, Columbus Health Commissioner.

They say a better way of disposing prescription medication is by using permanent drug drop off sites found at sheriff’s offices or police departments and at the twice-a-year disposal drop offs like the one on Saturday.

Authorities say regardless, do not hang on to old prescription pills.

“You know all too often addiction starts in our medicine cabinet, not on the street corner,” Chief Deputy Rick Minerd with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office says.

You can find a list of prescription drug drop off site nearest you by entering you zip code in this web site.

There is some conflicting information on an official government web site.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises some prescription drugs can be flushed down the toilet, if no other disposal method is available. The FDA said their staff published a paper on the health risks associated with the flushing of 15 medicines. Most of the medicines were found to present low risk to the environment. While some additional data would be helpful for confirming this finding for five of the medicines, based in part on similarities shared with other medicines on the “flush list,” existing data suggest these medicines also pose low environmental risk. All 15 medicines present negligible human health risk through ingestion of water and fish.

Here is a link to those 15 medicines. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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