When it comes to getting rid of old medications from the medicine cabinet, the standard used to be flush them down the toilet. Unfortunately, years and even decades of this practice have led to several studies indicating the serious impacts on the environment.
A study published in 2012 from Environmental Science journal found that medications being flushed down the toilet routinely ended up in public waterways, and there were significant impacts on the behavior and mannerisms of fish and shellfish. One such example noted that male fish had become more susceptible to being killed by predators because they had trace amounts of the drug Zoloft, which is used to treat anxiety in humans. The fish’s behavior was modified by the trace amounts of drugs flushed down toilets and now in the environment of the fish.
Another study, which has been more widely circulated and published in the Hormones and Behavior journal linked the decline of Gulf pipefish to the flushing of birth control bills in toilets. It seems that the male fish were producing more estrogen and while they could still reproduce, the female fish had no interest in reproducing because of the spike of birth control pill ingredients that were modifying the fish’s behavior.
While that may seem far fetched and not something that should worry you, think about the fact that you are then eating the fish that have been genetically and behaviorally altered over time because of the medications being flushed down the toilet.
According to an article from Mother Jones Magazine, an excess of “$230 billion worth of prescription drugs used by Americans every year will make it through the sewage treatment process and into the waterways.”
Over time, the medications flushed down the toilet will continue to have a major impact on the environment and that cycle will affect human beings because of the way we live within our environment. Some effects are already being felt. Just look at all the warnings on consuming tuna or halibut. It may sound like something out of a science fiction horror novel, but the impacts of our behaviors are hurting the rest of the food chain.
The disposal of prescription medications and drugs should be a well-planned behavior. Additionally, it is important to note that the drugs that we consume and that are then urinated into the toilet and flushed do not have the same impact of raw, unused medications. Our bodies metabolize the medications and they become far less concentrated when we excrete the drugs through our urine. Therefore, they are not nearly as potent and dangerous to aquatic life.
If it is too difficult to find a drug take-back program in your area, you can mix medications with kitty litter or sand, coffee grounds or dirt and then close them tightly into a plastic bag that can sealed. Be sure not do crush your medications as there may be an unintended impact of the medication, whether that be on your body by breathing in the bits that escape into the air or environmental.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages anyone with old medications to dispose of these properly and promptly. If you have old medications lying around in your home, you put yourself at risk for taking the wrong medication, consuming expired medication, as well as increase the risk of misuse or theft of medications by others.
While the FDA does note that the best possible disposal method includes locating a medication take-back program in your area, they also note that disposing of old medication in the trash is an option. However, there are specific restrictions and parameters outlined to ensure that you are not doing more harm than good.
The best place to find a drug take-back program is to look online at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) website or call your local police station to ask for the best method of disposal. Some areas in the United States even allow you to take your old medications back to your pharmacy where they will be disposed of properly.