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No Drugs Down the Drain

Protect Our Environment

A vast array of pharmaceuticals – including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones – have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, according to an Associated Press investigation. Because the amount of the drugs found in our water supply is hundreds or thousands of times lower than the quantity found in the medications we take, it is not clear what the potential harm is to humans. However, research has shown that there can be dramatic effects on animals that live in the aquatic habitat, such as fish and frogs.

One major way that drugs get into rivers, streams and drinking water supplies is improper disposal of unused or expired medications by people who flush them down the toilet or pour them down the drain. Locally, if you flush unused or expired medications down the toilet, you're in effect flushing them directly into the Ventura River.

That's because the Ojai Valley Sanitary District's Wastewater Treatment Plant processes – like all sewage treatment plants – are unable to remove many chemicals present in prescription, over-the-counter, and veterinary drugs, or personal care products. This is due to the chemical structure and potency of even miniscule amounts of xenobiotic chemicals.

Flow of such chemicals into the river poses a threat to the aquatic environment in several ways, including interfering with growth and reproduction in aquatic organisms. Exposure to hormones such as those present in birth control pills or estrogen replacement products appears to cause sexual mutations in fish and frogs.

Scientists are also concerned that the presence of medications in surface water bodies may increase bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Increasingly, public health authorities and sanitation experts across the nation are educating people on the importance of proper disposal of unused medications. More and more people are taking advantage of drug take-back programs in their communities that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal.

One such effort locally is a collaboration begun last year between the Ventura County Sheriff's Department and the Ventura County Public Health Department. Both agencies are concerned about the environmental impacts, and as well about children and teens who are increasingly getting their hands on pain killers, stimulants and other drugs left around the house.

One in five teens has tried Vicodin, one in ten has tried Oxycontin or Ritallin and one in eleven has admitted to getting high on cough medicine, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America.

Since last June, the county program has collected more than 2,700 pounds of old drugs. The Sheriff's Department has drop-off locations at county jails and all of its stations.

To Safely Dispose of Unused or Outdated Drugs Ojai Valley Sanitary District Officials Offer These Recommendations:

  • Keep the medications in their original containers, scratching your name off to protect your privacy. Bag them, put the bag into a sturdy box and place it into the trash close to the time rubbish is picked up. Or in the alternative, avail yourself of this community take-back program:
  • Drop off your unused medications at the Ojai Police Department, 402 S. Ventura St. Ojai.