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Operation Medicine Cabinet
Operation Medicine Cabinet Overview
Operation Medicine Cabinet is a collaborative effort of law enforcement, health and safety, substance abuse prevention, environmental organizations and others. We are working together to protect our kids, communities and waters from the dangers of leftover prescription drugs. Yadkin Riverkeeper is proud to participate in this collaborative effort.
OMC has two goals: to stop pharmaceutical flushing that pollutes water and to eliminate unused medications unsafely stored in households, which can cause unintentional poisoning or be misappropriated. OMC partners law enforcement with the public through Take-Back events that provide a safe, anonymous opportunity for the public to dispose of unused medicines. Through events and education, OMC increases both public and organizational participation to reduce the harmful practice of pharmaceutical flushing.
Is the improper disposal of drugs really a problem in North Carolina?
The average North Carolinian fills 14 prescriptions annually, which adds up to 128,000,000 prescriptions filled statewide each year. Of the drugs dispensed, approximately 40 percent are never used, and in a recent survey, 89 percent of respondents disposed of medications in the garbage or flushed medications down the toilet or sink. Both practices lead to water contamination.
Are health professionals a part of the problem or a part of the solution?
The answer to both questions is “YES.” Most health care professionals tell patients to flush unused drugs and flush medications themselves, practices which contribute to water contamination. One of the two methods of drug disposal advocated by the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy Investigations and Inspections is flushing drugs into our sewer systems. Every health care professional can be part of the solution if they educate themselves about safe disposal of drugs and teach their patients and clients about the safe disposal of drugs.
How does improper or unsafe disposal of drugs hurt our rivers and streams?
Our rivers and streams are particularly vulnerable to the effects of drug contamination. Aquatic life from the smallest plankton to our largest fish is harmed when exposure is constant and occurs during crucial times of their life cycles. Significant contamination is occurring in North Carolina and in over 80 percent of U.S. waterways that have been tested.
What kinds of drugs are in our streams and rivers? What harm do they do?
In 2004, the U.S. Geological Survey identified 100 different pharmaceuticals in rivers and streams. The list includes aspirin, caffeine, codeine, antibiotics and warfarin (a common blood thinner and sometimes a rat poison). They also found antibiotics, drugs used to treat mental illness and nicotine contaminated underground water because they leaked out of our landfills. Antibiotics in the environment are a real problem because bacteria can build up a resistance to them, which makes our medicine to treat infections less effective. Each year, 65,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Some of the drugs found in our water are linked to the development of diabetes, breast cancer and kidney problems.
What does the science and research tell us about the drugs in our rivers?
Scientists continue to investigate the environmental and human health consequences of drugs contaminating our rivers. Preliminary research has found that exposure to small amounts of drugs commonly found in our rivers and streams caused indicator species like earthworms and zooplankton to die. Other pharmaceuticals appear to be contributing to an increase in mussel mortality, accelerating reproduction in certain shellfish and stunting the growth of snails. Additionally, the compounds in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can affect the sex characteristics of fish and reduce reproduction.
What good will Operation Medicine Cabinet do?
Operation Medicine Cabinet provides a way to inform communities, leaders and partners of the emerging threat of improper disposal of drugs. The take-back program and educational campaign offer a commo
Thanks to a 3 year grant awarded from The Women's Impact Fund, Yadkin Riverkeeper's efforts will be greatly expanded, especially in the lower part of the river basin. This expansion will include the collaboration of even more diverse partners in the effort to educate the public on the proper disposal methods for pharmaceutical medications - keeping these substances out of our water supply and also keeping them from being misappropriated.
OMD Public Website: www.omd-nc.org
This program is an integrated campaign of public and legislative awareness, education, and behavior change that will reduce the damage being done to the watersheds of North Carolina by the untreated discharge of pharmaceuticals into our waterways. It creates important connections between communities and conservation issues, and provides a practical lesson on the interrelated nature of human behavior and the environment. In 2000 the U.S. Geological Survey identified 100 different pharmaceuticals in surface waters, leading them to conclude that significant contamination is occurring in over 80% of U.S. waterways tested.
Operation Medicine Cabinet also addresses accidental poisoning and abuse prevention, which are critical public health concerns associated with the improper disposal of pharmaceuticals. Forty percent of drugs dispensed are never used, creating significant opportunities for abuse, illegal distribution, and accidental poisonings.
By campaigning for the proper disposal of unused medications via take-back events with law enforcement, Operation Medicine Cabinet seeks to remove these substances from our drinking water supply while also keeping them from being misappropriated. Working with medical establishment to alter their directives to the public on proper medication disposal is also a goal.
Pharmaceutical flushing is an environmental and public health threat. Forty-percent of prescribed drugs go unused and are improperly stored in homes, contributing to unintentional poisoning, the 2nd leading cause of accidental death in NC. Further, 56% of people 12 years or older who abuse prescription drugs obtained them from a friend, family member, or medicine cabinet. The standard directive from medical professionals is flushing, showing a clear need for institutional reform. Take-back events and education will increase awareness of this issue and shed light on the threat to aquatic life and our drinking water.
The main goals of Operation Medicine Cabinet are to:
- Reduce the number of accidental poisonings or inappropriate use of improperly stored medications.
- Reduce the harmful impacts of pharmaceutical flushing on local waterways and drinking water through public education and altering institutional practices.
- Increase awareness of proper medication disposal techniques and empower the community to act to keep its people and its waters healthy.
Program Background and Update
Whether you are an average citizen flushing one prescription-based narcotic down the drain or one of many major health care facilities which flush 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals every year, pharmaceutical contamination is an emerging environmental threat to all North Carolina waterways.
Operation Medicine Cabinet will change the way North Carolinian’s disposed of unused, unwanted, and expired medications. Every single day, some type of legal or illegal drug is being flushed into our waterways. It is critical to environmental and human health in every community that pharmaceuticals be promptly and safely destroyed. However, currently in North Carolina there is no requirement for the practice of pharmaceutical flushing to be modified, changed, or even discouraged. With health care providers and facilities still recommending drug flushing, this emerging environmental threat will continue to affect our waterways, which includes our drinking water. Only a change in practice will stem the flow of pharmaceuticals in our beautiful watersheds throughout North Carolina.
Yadkin Riverkeeper is partnering with other organizations such as SafeKids NC, the SBI, and the DEA to implement Operation Medicine Cabinet (OMC) in communities along the Yadkin River. YRK launched the inaugural take-back event in March 2011 during poison prevention week and include more areas in a September take-back event each year.
This collaborative partnership will raise awareness of and take action against the harmful practice of pharmaceutical flushing/dumping. NC’s waters are particularly vulnerable to impacts from pharmaceutical contamination. Studies have linked reproductive problems and lowered immune response in fish and frogs to pharmaceutical hormone exposure. In a nationwide study the occurrence of intersex fish was most prevalent (91%) in the Yadkin Pee Dee watershed.
Through education and prescription drug take-back events, Yadkin Riverkeeper hopes to take the lead in implementing an OMC statewide campaign to keep prescription drugs off the street while educating the public about the negative impacts prescription drugs have on aquatic life and drinking water supplies—and ultimately create policy change in Raleigh regarding this issue.
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