Metro, state initiate Southeast's first pill disposal program

Friday, April 22, 2011 at 12:33pm

Nashvillians can start disposing unused or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter drugs in newly installed bright green collection containers instead of trash cans.

Seeking to reduce the environmental complications posed by chemicals from pills entering Davidson County’s water system, state and Metro officials Friday kicked off a new drug disposal program they say will also reduce the risk of prescription drug abuse by keeping pills out of the wrong hands. 

The initiative, billed as the first countywide pill collection program in the Southeast, places six educational-message wrapped containers –– that resemble post office mailboxes –– inside Nashville’s police precincts. Four other containers could go in future locations. The $1,500 to create each box came from state and local dollars.

“Obviously, when medications are disposed of in an improper fashion, when they’re flushed down the toilet or put down the drain, they end up in our water system,” Mayor Karl Dean said. “They go straight to the Cumberland River.

“Before today, there was no convenient, no regular locations to safely and conveniently dispose of medications in Davidson County,” he said. “That has now been corrected.”

Tennessee Environmental Department of Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau said Friday’s announcement encompassed three things –– “good science, partnerships and empowerment.”

Martineau called the initiative “low-hanging fruit” to address an important environmental issue. According to national statistics, 90 percent of Americans improperly dispose of their prescription drugs. 

“Monitoring across the nation has indicated the presence of pharmaceuticals in our surface water and waste water,” Martineau said.

Partnering Metro agencies include the public works, police, water and beautification departments. Officials say pills taken from the collection boxes will be confiscated and sterilized the same way police handle other over-the-counter drugs.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is said to be continuing to conduct research on the effect of prescription pills in an area’s water supply.

“From my perspective, this is a perfect example of protecting the watershed,” said Metro Water Director Scott Potter said. “Because to keep the drugs out of the waste stream, [they] can’t possibly get into the watershed.”