Drug Talk: Spartanburg Water Launches Rx Outreach

Perhaps the first of its kind, this metropolitan water utility has devised a communitywide program to keep medication out of the water supply.
Drug Talk: Spartanburg Water Launches Rx Outreach
Spartanburg Water (South Carolina) launched RXcycle, a new program aimed at keeping medicine out of the waste stream.

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Spartanburg Water, which serves more than 180,000 customers in and around Spartanburg, South Carolina, is spearheading RXcycle Spartanburg, a new initiative that lets people safely dispose of outdated and unused prescription and over-the-counter medications. On Sept. 26, four drop-off locations accepted medications, syringes, inhalers, liquids and patches. Spartanburg County Sheriff’s deputies staffed the drop-off sites to ensure medications were stored, transported and rendered inert according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency guidelines.

“Not only are we going to get this medicine out of our homes and ensure that it’s not flushed, but also once it gets in the right hands, it’s going to be rendered useless, which is what it should be if it’s not been used and has been allowed to expire,” says Chad Lawson, communications manager for Spartanburg Water.

Some people might be confused by previous instructions to flush unused medications down the toilet or a sink drain rather than letting them fall into the wrong hands. RXcycle Spartanburg dispels that antiquated notion and encourages proper disposal, which helps ensure water-supply quality.

“We now know that flushing is never an option for medication,” Sue Schneider, Spartanburg Water CEO, said in a press release. “When we flush medicine down the drain, it presents multiple challenges to our efforts to keep our drinking water clean, safe and healthy.”

Lawson said that since 2010, the utility has held two prescription drug take-back events per year as part of a nationwide DEA effort, with the most recent disposal day netting about 347 pounds of unused medications. However, RXcycle Spartanburg represents a local event with its own name and brand, and several partners from across the community spectrum. Participants include Spartanburg Water, SPARTA, Upstate Forever, Spartanburg County Recycling, the Spartanburg Alcohol and Drug Commission and the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department.

The community-level effort is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

“A lot of different entities have a vested interest in this,” says John Moore, watershed programs manager for Spartanburg Water. “It’s a true collaborative effort within the community.”

Moore said RXcycle Spartanburg shouldn’t be confused as a reactive measure intended to clean the area’s water supply. Instead, it’s a proactive effort designed to keep potentially dangerous medications — many of which contain multiple chemical compounds — out of the water and make customers feel secure.

“There’s a lot of research out there now that explains the kind of interaction (chemicals) might have in their environment,” he said. “The efforts we’re making today will have a huge impact 30 years down the road.”

Lawson agreed, pointing out the utility constantly tests the community’s water supply and is extremely confident in its compliance and treatment abilities. RXcycle Spartanburg changes the focus from fears about medications in the water to pride and confidence in water quality.

“I talk to people all the time who have concerns about all kinds of things that might end up in our water and might impact quality, but we want to shift that discussion to make sure we don’t have to discuss that in the long term because were getting rid of it beforehand,” he says.

“We want to continue to grow this message so people really understand the importance of having these events, responding to them and bringing in their medication.”

Spartanburg Water has heavily promoted the new program via social media, advertising on municipal buses and other avenues. It’s actually part of a larger community outreach campaign, which includes a new website, broader social media interaction and a citizens’ academy to answer customer questions.

“We’re really trying to meet people where they are … listen to them more and start really talking to them about their water so they’re as educated as some of us in the industry,” he says.

The utility hopes to hold two RXcycle days per year — one in spring, another in fall.

“Frankly, those two events are just a microcosm of the whole campaign,” Moore says. “This is just one of the small pieces that we have in our watershed management plan.”


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