Citizens Campaign for the Environment, joined by Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn and Dr. William Spencer, released a new report, “Analysis of Existing Drug Disposal Plans at Health Care Facilities in Suffolk County, NY”. The report found that 51% of Suffolk County hospitals, long-term care facilities and nursing homes are still flushing expired and unused controlled substances. Controlled substances include codeine, valium, morphine, Ativan, ambien, vicadone, and Percocet.

“Health care facilities are leaders in innovation, emerging science, and cutting edge technology. Yet, the archaic practice of flushing drugs is still rampant. We expect more in the 21st century. Trace pharmaceuticals are found in Long Island’s drinking water supplies and within our estuaries, lakes, and bays. Our morning coffee should have coffee, milk, and sugar-NOT valium, morphine and ambien.” stated Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

This report is the first comprehensive look at drug disposal methods in Suffolk County. In 2011 the Suffolk Legislature enacted a law that required hospitals, long-term care facilities, and nursing homes to submit disposal plans for unused and expired medications in an environmentally safe manner to prevent medications from entering our drinking water supply and our rivers, bays, and estuaries. CCE foiled the disposal plans and conducted a thorough assessment of facilities’ methods for disposing pharmaceuticals.

“Long Islanders rely exclusively on the aquifers under our feet as the sole source for our drinking water,” stated Suffolk County Legislator William Spencer. “We must do everything in our power to protect this vital resource including ensuring that expired and unused prescription drugs do not find their way into our water supply. I commend the Citizens Campaign for the Environment for their proactive efforts on this issue.”

The report analyzed 59 facilities drug disposal plans. Some of the findings include:

  • 51% of the facilities indicated that they flush their unused and expired controlled substances.
  • 25% of facilities are using a reverse distributor to properly dispose of controlled substances.
  • 12% of facilities take advantage of the National Take Back Program.

In contrast, 83%of facilities stated that they returned non-controlled drugs to the manufacturer, a reverse distributor, or a pharmacy. Non-controlled drugs include antibiotics, blood pressure medications, diabetic medication, and steroid medications.

“This report highlights the dangers of improper medicine disposal and its profound effect on all of us through their impact on the environment,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn. “Legislator Spencer, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and I will be holding a series of meetings with health care facilities to discuss best practices and model disposal policies to address the damage caused by medications flushed into our region's drinking water and waterways. I look forward to working with these stakeholders in finding solutions to this environmental threat.”

CCE has provided several additional recommendations, including:

1. Suffolk County should develop a plan that prohibits flushing and ensures all drugs are safely sent to an entity that incinerates.

2. Suffolk County should encourage health care facilities to establish an educational plan to educate residents, families, and staff of the proper procedure to dispose of unused/expired drugs within the facilities and communities.

“This report is a snapshot of what is happening throughout NY. We have made progress in offering homeowners proper disposal options, now we must take action to ensure health care facilities are properly disposing drugs. The days of requiring nurses and healthcare workers to flush pharmaceutical waste should end.” concluded Esposito.