Earth Day may be over but environmental conservation is an important topic no matter the time of year. While most environmental discussion these days seems to revolve around climate change, fossil fuels, and who has the facts right, there is another issue that we think is pretty important. The proper disposal of unused, expired, or no longer needed prescription drugs is getting more attention for very good reason.
We all know that dumping tons of oil or sewage in a body of water is bad. It kills aquatic life, destroys plants and ruin ecosystems. It also contaminates the water supply of any town that relies on that particular body of water. Yet every year people flush tons of prescription drugs down the toilet or simply throw them away. What do they do the environment? And how do they get there?
Flushing and throwing away drugs are not an ideal solution. The active ingredients and chemical compounds in medications can stay in the environment for a long time and be ingested by fish, animals, plants and even humans. Even if treated in a water treatment plant, there will still be some residual amount of chemicals left in the water. In fact drugs have even been found in trace amounts in the underground aquifers that supply 40#&37; of America’s water supply. It’s a problem not just confined to the US; Canada, Japan and other countries have also uncovered drugs in different water supplies in their countries. The effects may be already visible. Male fish in some places have become feminized, producing eggs. Changes have also been observed in zooplankton and earthworms.
Unfortunately research on this is as widespread as you might suspect. Modern regulations generally do not require the removal of prescription drugs from wastewater, thus most plants aren’t engineered to do that. Yet these are drugs designed to work on humans and animals in relatively low doses so it’s very likely the long term effects are just not known yet.
We do not need to know the long-term effects to surmise there is an environmental safety issue here. It’s not necessary to see widespread environmental degradation to start doing things right. The easiest way to prevent problems is to properly dispose of your prescription drugs. Prescription drug take back days are becoming more common across North America. They encourage people to turn in old, unused or unneeded drugs for proper disposal. They were initially designed to get people to turn in prescription opioids so they wouldn’t contribute to the ongoing opioid crisis. Further, more and more pharmacies are able to take in prescription drugs for disposal. If you have old, unused, or no longer needed prescription drugs, take advantage of a local take back day or visit a local pharmacy and have them properly disposed of. The environment will thank you.