Medications include prescription drugs such as hormones, antidepressants, and antibiotics; over –the-counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, cold/flu remedies, and antiseptics; and veterinary medicines.
Studies have found trace amounts of medications in streams, rivers, and lakes across the country.
Medications enter these water bodies from various sources that include animal feedlots, land application of organic materials, and wastewater treatment plants that treat residential, commercial, and industrial wastewater.
It can be a challenge to get rid of unused, unwanted, or expired medications. Increasingly scientists are warning us not to flush unwanted medications down the toilet. This becomes a problem because wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove drugs and personal care products.
The major concerns regarding the presence of medications in surface water bodies have been an increased bacterial resistance to antibiotics and interference with the growth and reproduction in frogs and fish. Aquatic organisms are sensitive to low levels of exposure and are particularly vulnerable when exposed before birth and during the juvenile growth stages.
The level of risk to humans is still being studied. New medications being manufactured constantly lead to an increased usage, especially by the elderly. At this point, the long-term effect of pharmaceuticals in the environment is unknown, but there is a potential for harm. To avoid possible environmental damage, methods to reduce or improve drug disposal are necessary.
The Environmental Protection Agency is studying whether to develop formal recommendations for disposing of old medications. In the mean time, it is suggested that capsules and pills be crushed and put back into their original containers. Add water to the solid drug and replace the child-resistant cap. Add kitty litter, sawdust, or flour to liquid drugs to discourage any unintended use. Double enclose the containers in sealable plastic bags and place in plain packaging that does not indicate the contents.
Once you follow these steps, you can contact your local police department or local health department for safe disposal instructions.
To learn more about medications in the environment, go to these websites: