Carmel River Watershed Conservancy revives drug take-back program.

Sex Pollution: Lorin Letendre of the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy says synthetic hormones, like the drugs prescribed to men with prostate cancer, can be dangerous for aquatic systems.

Michael Waxer was literally left holding the bag: dozens of pharmaceuticals left behind after his mother passed away last year. “The amount of medications a person is on – it was just a realization,” he says. “What do you do with this stuff?”

Waxer, vice president of the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy board, says the systems in place to deal with unwanted and expired drugs are imperfect. The worst method is unfortunately among the most common: flushing them down the toilet or sink. From there, they can leak into the environment and pollute waterways, particularly in areas like Carmel Valley that lack wastewater treatment facilities. 

Some pharmacies do accept unwanted drugs, but not the ones classified as controlled substances. And meds tossed in the trash become vulnerable to theft and abuse.

So the conservancy is leading the effort to open an anonymous, secure drug drop-box at the Carmel-by-the-Sea police station, with hopes to eventually expand the program countywide.

“One of our goals is to protect the water quality in the river and creeks as well as the underlying aquifer,” Conservancy President Lorin Letendre says. “Even when the water is treated, some of these drugs can get through into the Carmel Lagoon.”

The idea got off the ground several years ago, with Monterey nonprofit The Sustainability Academy in the lead. But the project stalled in late 2011, when the academy laid off its director and restructured.

“[The project] was laying dormant waiting for a mothership to adopt it,” Waxer says. “The conservancy was a natural, because the water supply was largely in the Carmel River.”

Conservancy board members plan to meet with Carmel police to discuss the program; Waxer hopes for a launch this year.

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