Protect Aquatic Organisms: Don't Flush Unused Medications

Unused prescription medications should not be flushed or washed down the drain because the residue from pharmaceuticals adversely affects fish and other aquatic species.

"Some of these chemicals interfere with or mimic natural hormones and disrupt reproduction, development, and behavior of fish and other organisms," says Dana Rizzo, extension water resources educator.

Pharmaceutical and personal-care products are all a concern, including over-the-counter remedies, prescription medicines, veterinary drugs, and products used to adorn and clean, such as fragrances, lotions, antibacterial soaps, detergents, sunscreens, and cosmetics.

Chemicals find their way into the environment in human and domestic animal excretions and by flushing unneeded or expired medications and products down a toilet or drain.

Because reducing the amount of drugs being excreted by humans would be difficult, disposing of unused medications properly is one of the only options available for reducing their presence in aquatic habitats.

"Instead of flushing unwanted medications, dispose of them through increasingly common pharmaceutical take-back programs," Rizzo suggests.

If you have a large supply of medications and if there are no take-back events scheduled locally, follow these steps for disposal:

  • Remove unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs from their original containers.
  • Mix the drugs with an undesirable substance, such as kitty litter.
  • Place the drugs in sturdy, opaque, nondescript containers and throw these containers in the trash.

Hannah Lane