TDEC Protects Water Quality by Providing More Options for Unwanted Household Pharmaceutical Disposal

Monday, April 10, 2017 | 10:06am

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) continues to expand its efforts to protect water quality in Tennessee by working with statewide partners to provide more options for the disposal of unwanted medications. Collection programs reduce the amount of pharmaceutical products being flushed, poured down drains or sent to landfills.

“The permanent bins offer a safe and convenient way to dispose of unwanted medication while creating opportunities for residents to promote environmental protection and safe communities,” said TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau. “Protecting our environment is a team effort. We want to do what we can to equip our citizens with the tools they need to do their part to take individual action to make a positive impact on the environment and the health of their communities.”

Through TDEC’s Unwanted Household Pharmaceutical Collection Program, there are now 224 permanent collection bins for expired, unused or unwanted household medications across all of Tennessee’s 95 counties. In 2016, more than 80,000 lbs. of medication was collected – almost five times more than during the program’s first year in 2012. In 2017, more than 11,000 lbs. of unwanted pharmaceuticals has already been recovered and prevented from entering Tennessee’s waterways.

Flushing or washing drugs down the sink allows chemicals to enter the watershed or groundwater, where they can affect drinking water and stream ecosystems. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to adequately remove chemicals found in drugs and drugs that end up landfilled as trash also end up in the watershed. Unwanted prescription medications that are easily accessible can also result in other negative consequences.

“Prescription drugs can create a risk in every household where they are present, and state and local agencies have been eagerly working together with public and private partners to provide Tennesseans with a simple solution for proper disposal of unused, expired and unwanted drugs to help reduce the risks of accidental overdose and death,” said Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “We know approximately 95 percent of drug overdoses are accidental, and many but not all are a result of intentional misuse. Reducing the amount of prescription drugs in the community helps lower the risk of poisoning from any cause and will save lives.”

Since 2012, TDEC has been working to expand collection sites with partners including: local law enforcement agencies; the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); the Tennessee Department of Health; the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS); the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI); and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

“This multi-disciplinary collaboration is an excellent way for the TBI and partner agencies to make a difference in combatting the opioid epidemic, using cost-effective methods with improved efficiency,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn.

To ensure all 95 counties had access to at least one collection bin, TDEC partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to secure funding for the remaining counties. Grant funding from the USDA covered almost 75 percent of the expansion’s total cost.

“The importance of these collection bins cannot be understated given the fact that we know approximately 70 percent of first-time prescription opioid users get them from a family member or friend,” said TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams. “Every unused prescription disposed of properly could save a loved one’s life.”

The total number of pounds collected since 2012 can be found in the table below:

2012 15,905.91
2013 23,501.63
2014 22,086.96
2015 56,197.48
2016 82,021.03

TDEC’s program fits within a broader statewide initiative, Prescription for Success, which targets preventing and treating the prescription drug use epidemic in Tennessee. Spearheaded by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the initiative has helped steadily increase the amount of medication collected every year – totaling nearly 200,000 lbs. today.

Medications accepted through Tennessee’s Collection Program include liquid prescriptions, medicated ointment, pills, over-the-counter medications and pet medications.

For a map of bin locations statewide, visit In addition to these permanent collection bins, the national Drug Enforcement Agency is also hosting a Drug Take-Back Day on April 29. Drop-off locations can be found here: