Posted by Kathryn Muratore at September 14, 2008 01:23 PM

Since the big story broke last spring about prescription medicine showing up in municipal water, more and more tests have been run in different areas of the country, and all show the same general trend. Previously, I implicated the Drug War in being one of the culprits in this problem.

But I underestimated the depth of the guilt of the DEA. It turns out that the Drug War regulations make it prohibitively expensive to dispose of unused controlled substances in any other way, so medical facilities are dumping them down the drain.

From the AP article:

In a frustrating quirk in government policy, the most tightly controlled drugs — like painkilling narcotics prone to abuse — are the ones that most often elude environmental regulation when they become waste.

Federal narcotics regulators impose strict rules meant to keep controlled pharmaceuticals out of the wrong hands. Yet those rules also make these drugs nearly impossible to handle safely as waste, say hospital environmental administrators.

Though a leader in incinerating drug waste, this hospital still puts four gallons of controlled substances down the drain each year, says hazardous waste manager Steven Waderich.

It would be very expensive to do otherwise. “Managing controlled substances, the cost goes up just through the roof,” he says.

In nearby Robbinsdale, North Memorial Medical Center pours 50 gallons of controlled substances into its drains annually rather than pay $25,000 to handle and haul it away for safer disposal, says regulated waste coordinator Jerry Fink.

Part of the cost is due to federal rules that state anyone who handles controlled substances, other than a user, must be certified as a police officer or registered with the DEA. That goes for pharmacists, distributors, even waste handlers.

State waste regulators take their cue from federal law and regulations.

Thus, typical assisted-living centers, which are not registered with the DEA, cannot collect unused controlled drugs of residents for offsite disposal.

Even the destruction of controlled drugs must be meticulously documented, so they aren’t diverted to addicts. Medical facilities typically send a second staffer to bear witness when controlled substances are poured into sinks or toilets.

The result of ingesting these minute amounts of drug coctails is unknown and maybe harmless. However, this shouldn’t be a scare in the first place. The regulation of drugs, both of those legal and not, harm far more people than they ever help. From unintended conciquences such as this to increased crime and the rise in the police state to the creation of drugs like crack cocaine which may never had occured if not for the high costs of other drugs due to prohibition.