In just half a day on Saturday, the Sacramento Police Department collected 1,048 pounds of prescription drugs.
The department had to shut down its Drug Take Back Day an hour early because it ran out of storage space for the drugs, police spokesman Officer Matt McPhail said Sunday.
“It’s a good indicator of how much surplus medication is out there,” he said. Officers send the medications to be incinerated, which is the method of disposal preferred by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Saturday’s event was part of National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, sponsored by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Law enforcement agencies throughout the country participate in the biannual event. Last spring, the DEA reported collecting 447 tons of unused prescription drugs, a record for the agency.
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Numbers weren’t available Sunday for previous drug take back events, but McPhail said this year’s haul may be smaller because the department recently installed a medication take-back bin in its Public Safety Center on Freeport Boulevard.
“What tends to happen is because (National Prescription Drug Take Back Day) is only held periodically, it’s not really accessible for the community,” McPhail said. Residents “get one shot every couple of months” to dispose of their medications.
With the new bin, people can drop off unused medications year round during business hours, he said.
Unused prescriptions lingering on medicine cabinet shelves can end up in the hands of children or addicts, McPhail said.
Sacramento police partnered with the California Product Stewardship Council’s Don’t Rush to Flush program to install the bin. Flushing prescription drugs or putting them in the trash leads to pollution of groundwater, McPhail said.
“Ultimately all of those chemicals percolate down into the groundwater system,” he said.
Studies have shown sewage systems cannot remove all of the medications people flush down the toilet and as a result, 80 percent of U.S. streams contain small amounts of human medicine, according to a fact sheet from the California State Board of Pharmacy. Fish and other aquatic animals can be adversely affected – one study from 2012 found that some fish with anti-anxiety medications in their systems were less concerned about predators.