DON’T flush those old pills!

SB 966, which would require large retail pharmacies to enact a system by July 1, 2008, to collect and dispose of unused prescription drugs dropped off by consumers, passed the state Senate today on a 21-13 vote, squeaking by and headed to an Assembly hearing in June or July.

simitian.jpgState Senate Environmental Quality Committee Chairman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, introduced the bill after the idea was among winning entries in his annual “There Oughta Be A Law” contest; Rebecca Kassel, a 17-year-old Aptos High School senior, and Mountain View resident Abe Binder thought it up, and Kassel testified before the Senate Business and Professions Committee last month.

“Few consumers have the time or the inclination to carry through with American Pharmacists Association’s current guidelines for the safe disposal of pharmaceuticals, which involves crushing or dissolving the medication, mixing with kitty litter, sealing in a plastic bag then setting out with the trash,” Simitian said in a news release today, noting drugs usually are either flushed down the toilet or thrown in the garbage where they threaten the environment and contaminate waterways.

A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey study of 139 streams across 30 states found that 80 percent had measurable concentrations of prescription and nonprescription drugs, steroids, and reproductive hormones. Exposure even to low levels of pharmaceuticals, has been shown to harm fish and other aquatic species and may threaten human health.

But leaving unused pills in the medicine cabinet indefinitely isn’t good either, what with the growing problem of teenage pharmaceutical abuse.

This isn’t Simitian’s first swipe at the issue. Two years ago, his SB 798 — another of his contest’s winners — created a program letting counties recover unused prescription drugs from skilled nursing facilities, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and wholesalers and re-distribute them for free to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them. So far, however, San Mateo County is the only California county to have implemented such a program.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Here’s what to do with the old pills you don’t flush! To protect San Francisco Bay, take old meds to a ‘safe medicine disposal site,’ which will responsibly ship them to a hazardous waste facility for incineration. To find one near you, go to http://www.saveSFbay.org/pharmadispose

    Save The Bay and other agencies are working to protect San Francisco Bay from pharmaceutical pollution, a troubling issue coming to light all over the country. You already saw the statistic that 80% of streams sampled by the EPA found some contamination from medications. Wildlife impacts include male fish producing eggs and fish too dazed to eat normally or defend themselves. Locally, preliminary studies have already found acetaminophen in Bay water. We want to make sure it doesn’t get any worse.

    Our website has resources for individuals to help protect the Bay from pharmaceutical pollution: http://www.saveSFbay.org You can also sign up for the Bay Saver e-newsletter to get news of upcoming medicine disposal events, like Save The Bay and EBMUD’s medicine disposal and thermometer exchange at the Solano Stroll this September.

    Save The Bay is the oldest and largest membership organization working exclusively to protect, restore and celebrate San Francisco Bay. The daily activities of 7 million Bay Area residents are the biggest source of Bay pollution.