Pharmaceutical Drugs May Contaminate Drinking Water

  • With a new year brings a perfect opportunity to clean out the medicine cabinet of expired or unneeded medications. Deep in the darkest corner of your medicine drawer along with a petrified tube of toothpaste might be a prescription bottle with a date from the ‘90's or even the ‘80's. Harboring such unused medications in your house can pose serious safety risks to pets, children, or even you. Some of these medications are like having a loaded gun in the house, which in the wrong hands can be deadly.


    Getting rid of medications sounds easy enough, right? Wrong, the FDA has some specific suggestions for properly disposing of medications, including the ever popular flushing method. However, recent news reports have exposed the fact that trace amounts of medications are being found in the drinking water. Minute amounts, meaning parts per billion or million, of antibiotics, sedatives, and hormones are among those drugs found in the water of many households in America. Not all of the drugs in the water get there by being deliberately flushed down the toilet as a direct disposal method; many are excreted in urine and feces as unmetabolized chemicals. Now, the government is starting to get concerned about the drugs in the drinking water and is launching some new monitoring systems.

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    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is going to start specifically monitoring for some pharmaceutical chemicals at the water treatment plants nationwide. The National Toxicology Program is starting to conduct research about the effects of trace amounts of drugs on human health. One question they hope to answer is if these trace amounts of drugs have an accumulative effect on a person over a lifetime of drinking contaminated water. The FDA has an updated list of Drugs to Flush. The FDA does not want and does not think that is necessary to flush all medications, only those with high risk for potential harm. If a drug is not on the "flush list", the FDA recommends placing the drugs in "kitty litter" or "coffee grounds" to discourage any potential for further use, misuse, or abuse. Because flushing medications may pose health concerns, eventually, the goal is to eliminate the need for toilet disposing with "community drug take-back programs". In my community, the local police department is part of a drug elimination program. Waste Management services will also be offering drug elimination to clinics and hospitals. Every year, I have to rid the clinic medicine cabinet of unused, expired sample medications that tend to accumulate.


    Safe disposal of medications is an extremely important part of being a responsible medication consumer. You should clean out your medicine cabinet every year. Only keep what you need and get rid of the rest. I propose that January become the official "Safe Drug Disposal" month.  Additionally, medication safety is not just about safe disposal, but is also about safe storage. So, don't forget to keep your medications in a secure, preferably locked, location. Now is a good time to review both your disposal and storage methods for your medications to insure safety first. And while you are at it, you might as well throw away that petrified tube of toothpaste.


Published On: January 05, 2010