Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Drugs in New York's Waters

In the past, consumers were told to flush unwanted drugs - and despite technological advances and research, low levels of drugs have been found in NY waters.

  • Flushed medications have been found in New York lakes, rivers and streams
  • Fish and other aquatic wildlife experience behavioral and physical changes through continuous exposure to low levels of medications
  • Drug-resistant bacteria can develop
  • Wastewater treatment plants may not filter all medications

Dispose of Drugs Safely

Find a NYS Medication Dropbox Location

Requirements for Pharmacies and Providers

Pharmacies and other retailers that sell drugs, including veterinary offices, must conspicuously display DEC's "Proper Disposal of Pharmaceuticals notice as required under NYS Law.

Don't flush unwanted household medications poster

Poster (PDF, 901 KB) for display at pharmacies
(Versiòn en español PDF, 875 KB)
Guidance (PDF, 17 KB) for proper display of poster

Guidance on Posting the Notice

How should it be displayed?

The notice should be printed in color, at least 8.5 x 11 inches, and be clearly displayed. Stores are encouraged to frame, laminate, or otherwise ensure that the notice is durable.

Where should it be posted?

In a pharmacy setting, the notice should be visible to a consumer at the pick-up counter. Options include posting on a wall or on the counter itself. If a pharmacy is within a store, but the pharmacy closes for some portion of the store hours, the notice should be visible in the pharmacy department during hours when the pharmacy is closed.

In other retail settings, the notice should be posted at one of the following locations:

  • At the checkout counter
  • On/above/visible from aisles where drugs are displayed
  • As a shelf-label or other in-aisle placement with the display of drugs

2018 Drug Take Back Act

On July 10, 2018, Governor Cuomo signed the Drug Take Back Act (PBH § 290-294). This groundbreaking legislation requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to fund statewide pharmaceutical drug take-back program(s). This legislation advances a "product stewardship" (PDF, 2.5 MB) approach to the challenge of disposing of unwanted medications. Pharmaceutical manufacturers will be responsible for all costs of the initiative including public education and awareness, as well as the collection, transport, and proper disposal of unwanted drugs.

The Act further requires chain pharmacies with 10 or more locations and mail-order pharmacies to provide consumers with on-site collection using kiosks, prepaid mail back envelopes, or other federally approved methods to encourage, safe, convenient and environmentally responsible disposal of unwanted medications. The Act allows other pharmacies to voluntarily serve as authorized collectors and participate in the Drug Take-Back program, with costs covered by the manufacturers.

By July 5, 2019, manufacturers must submit to New York State Department of Health (DOH) a proposal on how they intend to implement the Drug Take Back Act requirements. By September 3, 2019 (i.e., 60 days after submission), DOH must approve or deny the proposed plan in consultation with DEC. If DOH and DEC reject the proposal, manufacturers have until October 3, 2019 to submit a revised plan for review and approval.


More about Drugs in New York's Waters:

  • Safe Medication Disposal for Households - Dispose of unwanted medications safely - locate a medication take-back box location near you, take advantage of drug take-back days, and other options for keeping medications out of New York's waters.
  • Pilot Pharmaceutical Take-Back Program - DEC is working with retail chain and independent pharmacies, hospitals, and long-term care facilities across New York State to establish a pilot pharmaceutical take-back program. The program will cover the costs of consumer drug collection boxes and disposal for two years.
  • Disposal Options for Class 3A Facilities - Resources for long-term care facilities (LTCFs)and NYS DOH class 3A institutional dispensers on the safe and proper disposal of over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
  • PDF Help
  • For help with PDFs on this page, please call 518-402-8179.
  • Contact for this Page
  • Division of Water
    625 Broadway
    Albany, NY 12233-3500
    518-402-8179
    Send us an email
  • This Page Covers
  • Page applies to all NYS regions