Drugs, Toilets and Teenagers

Prescription medicines are turning up in unintended and dangerous places: toilets and teenagers.

Drugs consumed by Americans have risen 12 percent over 5 years, reaching 3.7 billion prescriptions and 3.3 billion nonprescription drugs in 2007. Use of veterinary drugs, including treatments for pets and steroids for livestock, has  also increased. More drugs create more cause for concern.
Pharmaceuticals have been discovered in the drinking water of at least 41 million Americans. Traces enter our water supply either because drugs are not fully metabolized or are discarded improperly. Hospitals and nursing homes flush about 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals down toilets every year. Municipal water treatment-plants are ineffective in removing cholesterol-reducing medications, tranquilizers and many other widely used drugs. Environmental studies demonstrate that even trace amounts of these compounds have adverse effects on aquatic wildlife. Laboratory studies also show that exposure causes disruption to human cellular processes.
Prescription pharmaceuticals are abused by nearly 2.1 million American teenagers. For 20 percent of teenagers, it's the illicit drug of choice, second only to marijuana. Pain relievers such as Vicodin and OxyContin are most commonly abused and 64 percent of teens who take them report getting them from friends or relatives. The risk of adverse reactions or death is high because they take various prescription drugs together and in combination with alcohol. 
Pharmaceuticals need to be treated as controlled substances at all times. We can help keep drugs out of the water supply and the hands of teenagers by locking up prescription medications and discarding them properly when no longer needed. Until a better means of disposal is adopted, we can crush leftover doses, mix them into coffee grounds, cat litter or other undesirable material, bag them up and place them in the trash. 
We need to tell teenagers that prescription drugs are safe when properly taken, but are as dangerous as more notorious drugs when abused. These seemingly benign drugs, flowing freely among teenagers, can quickly take their health and future down the toilet.
—Tom DeSanto
Sources: IMS Health, The Nielsen Company, Associated Press, Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration

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