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What’s The Deal With Flushing Prescription Drugs Down The Toilet?

Pill bottles

The other day we talked about how water in the Pacific Northwest is becoming mildly caffeinated, which was probably more amusing to most of us than unsettling. However, Kiera Butler over at Mother Jones has pointed out that flushing old drugs into waterways, something many people undoubtedly do, is a little more disturbing to think about because the last thing I want in a seafood salad is Grandpa’s leftover Lipitor.

According to the article, some $230 billion worth of old prescription medication gets flushed down the toilet by Americans every year, which eventually makes its way through the sewage system and into the waterways. Nowadays everyone is kind of in agreement that flushing prescription drugs is a horrible idea, but the Food and Drug Administration still allows this for morphine, Oxycontin, and Percocet to keep kids and pets from getting into it.

You would think that by the time a few pills reach a big body of water they would be diluted too much to pose any threats, but recent studies have found some human drugs do disrupt the biology of fish and other sea animals. In an Environmental Science study published earlier this year, fish found with traces of Zoloft in their system were far less anxious than others, but were also less effective at hiding from predators. Male fish in a lab exposed to estrogen-based hormone drugs began to adopt female traits after just 10 days, causing females to shun them. Bad news all around.

Rather than throwing out your pills or flushing them, find a drug take-back program where they will be incinerated and out of the hands of people (and animals) who don’t need them. I would love to see U.S. pharmacies take back old prescriptions and properly dispose of them, but it sounds like that won’t be happening anytime soon.

Do you still flush your unused pills, or have you found a better way to dispose of them?

Image CC licensed by David K: Pills

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=696758097 May Trubuhovich

    Wow, they don’t take them back in pharmacies over there? That sucks! We can do that in NZ and Australia, but I don’t know how many people actually bother to do it. I’ve heard that some of the drug content in the water is actually from our urine…I guess not much we can do about that except not take it unless we really need it. Great post Mandy. I have to admit that I nearly lol-ed when I read “fish found with traces of Zoloft in their system were far less anxious than others, but were also less effective at hiding from predators”. Not great to be a chilled-out fish, evidently. I wonder if they have increased appetite too.