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State says meds reach groundwater, landfills

Programs that encourage Wisconsinites to turn in their unused prescription drugs are not working very well.

State officials say only 2% of Wisconsin's unused medicines are taken to collection programs. The rest are either abused by somebody - tossed in the garbage - flushed down the toilet - or are still in medicine cabinets even though they've long been expired.

For the last several years, many Wisconsin communities have had collection programs to make sure that old prescription pills do not get abused, or pollute local groundwater. But a study by the DNR, the UW Extension, and Product Stewardship Institute says only a relatively few bother to drop their pills off.

According to the study, 119 million medications were sold in Wisconsin in 2010, either by prescription or over-the-counter. A third of those pills, weighing 4.4 million pounds, went unused. And only 2% of the unused pills were returned to collection programs.

Steve Brachmann, the study's author, says it costs more than twice as much as it does in Canada to dispose of drugs. The study suggests funding for a statewide program - explaining to people why drugs shouldn't be trashed or flushed - and making it easier for people to drop off old medicines for free.