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For Release: Friday, May 12, 2017

DEC Issues Guidance to Keep Drugs out of New York's Waters

New Guidance Will Help Public, Pharmacies, and Health Care Facilities Properly Manage Unwanted or Expired Pharmaceuticals

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today issued guidance for pharmacies and the public to keep unused drugs out of New York's waters. The guidance was prepared in consultation with the State Department of Health (DOH) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The guidance is available on DEC's Don't Flush Your Drugs website.

"Safely disposing of unwanted medications is an easy way for pharmacies, health care facilities, and the public to help protect water quality and safeguard public health and safety," said DEC Commissioner Seggos. "Many New Yorkers want to properly dispose of their unwanted drugs, but collection events and locations are not always convenient."

DEC urges all pharmacies to become authorized collectors of unwanted drugs, under the United States Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) Controlled Substances Disposal Rule and to install collection boxes to accept unused pharmaceuticals from the public. Alternatively, pharmacies can provide free or low cost mail-back envelopes to the public.

The new guidance will assist the public, pharmacies, and health care facilities to properly manage unwanted drugs. It also reminds pharmacies, other retailers, and veterinarians of requirements to post notices to comply with New York's Drug Management and Disposal Act.

Earlier this year, DEC announced two related initiatives to assist retail pharmacies protect public health and the environment. DEC launched a pilot pharmaceutical take-back program earlier this year. In the program, DEC will purchase medication collection boxes for participating pharmacies to install in their retail businesses. DEC will also cover the cost for pick-up, transport, and destruction of all collected waste pharmaceuticals by a DEA-registered reverse distributor for a period of two years.

Under the second initiative, DEC invited pharmacies to participate in a special Environmental Audit Incentive program to improve hazardous waste handling. As part of the Audit Agreement, participating retail pharmacies are required to make a good faith effort to adopt a system for collecting waste pharmaceuticals from consumers. This includes the installation of DEA-compliant medication collection boxes.

"The state, and nation for that matter, are in the grips of an opioid epidemic," said DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. "By disposing of unwanted medications appropriately, we can cut down the availability of these drugs as well as others. Allowing unwanted drugs to languish in medicine cabinets raises the risk that they will land in the wrong hands."

The DEC guidance asks the public to return unused, unwanted, or expired pharmaceuticals to pharmacies or Law Enforcement stations that offer collections or to use mail-back returns. If neither option is possible, the drugs may be disposed of in the trash following instructions in the guidance. The guidance also provides detailed recommendations for the public and certain health care institutions to properly dispose of unwanted, unused, or expired medications. Furthermore, it reminds retail businesses that sell prescription or over-the-counter drugs, including pharmacies, grocery stores, and veterinary offices, of the need to comply with the provisions of the New York State Drug Management and Disposal Act. Specifically, they must post a notice wherever prescription or over-the-counter drugs are sold.

Until recently, consumers were told to flush unwanted drugs. With technological advances and increased water quality research, low levels of medications have been detected in lakes, streams, and rivers. Many drugs pass largely unaltered through wastewater treatment plants and enter rivers and other waterways. Drugs from heath care facilities, pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, and farms can also reach the water. Although the health and environmental consequences are still being studied, current research is beginning to show correlations between continuous exposure to low levels of medications and adverse impacts to the health of affected fish and other aquatic wildlife.

In addition, the use and abuse of prescription medication is on the rise and can result in addictions to illegal drugs such as heroin. Properly disposing of unused, unwanted, and expired drugs cuts down on the chances that these pharmaceuticals are used inappropriately.

Senator Tom O'Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "Ongoing efforts at the local, federal and state levels to encourage and facilitate the responsible and safe disposal of unused prescription drugs are critical to the fight against heroin and opioid abuse and addiction. As a member of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, I appreciate every state-level initiative to complement and support the efforts of our local law enforcement leaders to further encourage the proper collection and disposal of unwanted drugs."

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Port Jefferson), Chair of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "Properly disposing of pharmaceuticals provides benefits for both public health and the environment - helping to prevent drug abuse and contributing to water quality. Protecting water quality is a priority and helping to prevent contamination, as is the case with effective drug disposal, is an important component. It is always better policy and less expensive to prevent pollution than to have to pay to remediate it."

DEC continues to proactively address this issue though the 'Don't Flush Your Drugs' campaign and targeted collections by DEC Law Enforcement professionals at long-term health care facilities in the New York City Watershed and on Long Island.

For more information on Safe Medication Disposal for Households, including drop box locations, visit DEC's website.

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