Fund For Lake Michigan

Take Back My Meds Protects Water Quality While Fighting Opioids

In Milwaukee, wastewater from household and commercial uses is treated and returned to Lake Michigan, the source of Milwaukee’s drinking water. Unfortunately, standard water treatment technology wasn’t designed for many of today’s pharmaceuticals. While scientists and engineers are busy designing water technology to address new contaminants, the current sobering truth is that what you rinse down your sink or flush down your toilet might just end up in your drinking water.

The surest way of keeping medicine out of Lake Michigan is to dispose of it in a safe way that keeps it out of our water altogether. Enter Take Back My Meds MKE (TBMMM). Since 2018, this coalition of environmental and human health advocates in southeastern Wisconsin has been working with pharmacies and law enforcement to place secure drop boxes throughout Milwaukee County. Medicines placed in drop boxes are ultimately delivered to EPA-approved facilities where they are incinerated.

By the end of 2019, TBMMM had collected and safely disposed of 2,982 pounds of unused medicine, and they are on pace to collect over 3,500 pounds by the end of 2020. The effort is safeguarding our waters while protecting our communities from excess pharmaceuticals.

With FFLM support, TBMMM has increased the number of drop boxes and driven traffic to its bilingual website, which includes a searchable map of drop box locations. “As a result, we’ve seen as many as 1,000 website hits per day,” says coalition director Jon Richards. “Our information campaigns are really working. People want to know where they can drop their meds.”

One of TBMMM’s goals is a drop box in every Milwaukee pharmacy by 2025. They are currently expanding disposal options for people with mobility challenges, including take back events at senior centers and services for people who are homebound. The coalition is also looking to extend its reach to Racine County.

“When safe disposal is so convenient that it becomes a widespread habit, it will be a victory for Lake Michigan and for Wisconsin’s communities,” says Vicki Elkin, Executive Director of the Fund for Lake Michigan .