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Drugs in Water Study Gets Attention of New York State Lawmakers

Apr 21, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Americans take a lot of prescription and over-the-counter medications, leaving a lot of unused medications requiring disposal.  In the wake of the recent revelation about drugs in the drinking water, some lawmakers want drug makers to take back consumers unused drugs, dispose of them in environmentally-friendly ways, and pay for this process.  Use of pharmaceuticals has been growing in the United States and reports last month from a five-month news investigation found that 24 of 62 major water systems serving 41 million people nationwide had pharmaceuticals in their water supplies.

The general wisdom is for people to flush unwanted medicine down the toilet, said Senator James Alesi, Republican-Perinton, Monroe County, adding that a few pills may not seem like much to somebody but, "If there are a million people throwing 10 pills each away, that's 10 million pills into the environment," he said.  Assemblyman Steven Englebright, Democrat-Suffolk County, a sponsor of the same bill in his house, said recent studies indicate that common medications, including antibiotics, are contaminating drinking water.  "We are creating a national health hazard through our indiscriminant and inappropriate pharmaceutical disposal practices," he said.  Under the New York bill, drug disposal would not be permitted as solid waste. Consumers would have to take unused medications to a collection program.  The bill is in legislative committee in both houses.  Although it has majority membership—Republicans in the Senate; Democrats in the Assembly—it is expected to create opposition from the industry, mostly because there is no cost estimate.

The main source of water contamination appears to be medication that passes through the human body without being metabolized completely Alan Goldhammer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America told a U.S. Senate committee this week.  Unused medicines contribute to the mix if they are flushed down toilets or poured into sinks, Goldhammer told senators during the hearing.

Meanwhile, take unused, unneeded or expired medications out of their original containers and throw them in the trash and mix them with an undesired substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and place them in an impermeable container like a sealable bag.  Only flush medications down the toilet if the label or patient information specifically says to do so. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the following drugs should be flushed down the toilet:  Actiq, Daytrana Transdermal Patch, Duragesic transdermal system, OxyContin tablets, Avinza capsules, Baraclude tablets, Tequin tablets, Zerit for Oral Solution, Meperidine HCI tablets, Percocet, Xyrem, and Fentora.  Utilize community pharmaceutical take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal whenever possible.

The five-month-long Associated Press inquiry revealed many communities do not test for drugs in drinking water and those that do often fail to tell customers they have found medications, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones.  Water providers are not required to test for pharmaceuticals and the EPA’s budget for the testing of endocrine disruptors in America’s waterways was cut by 35 percent.

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