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New law helps people safely get rid of medication

Locked mailbox-shaped containers soon may pop up at police stations and city halls across Illinois under a new state law aimed at encouraging people to properly dispose of unused medication.

The prescription drugs that fill up the receptacles will later be destroyed. The hope is that people will drop off their old medications instead of leaving them in cabinets for potential abuse or throwing them in the trash where they could contaminate the water supply.

“We don’t want anybody saying that back in 2011 the people of Illinois were so careless with pharmaceuticals that they just disposed of them in a very slipshod manner and ended up causing great harm to our water supply,” said Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday at a bill signing ceremony along the Chicago River. “We’ve got to do something about that.”

The first set of containers were donated to the state, but another measure signed by Quinn would tack on a $20 fee to certain drug convictions. The money would pay for grants to law enforcement agencies to put in place drug collection programs and promote awareness.

But proper disposal of medicines cannot ensure all traces of drugs stay out of the water supply, as some ends up in drinking water after people take medicines and the residue passes through their bodies and down the toilet. Sewage and water treatment filters out some substances, but studies find that small amounts get through.

In 2008, the Tribune hired an independent lab, which found tiny amounts of an anti-seizure drug, a common pain killer, caffeine and two chemicals used to make Teflon and Scotchgard in samples taken from a water supply that serves 7 million people.

Tests later conducted by the city of treated water from Lake Michigan found small amounts of the sex hormones testosterone and progesterone; gemfibrozil, a prescription cholesterol-fighting drug; and DEET, the active ingredient in bug spray.

Still, supporters say the legislation, which was pushed by high school students in north suburban Antioch and downstate Pontiac, is a step in the right direction.

mcgarcia@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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