People toss many things down the toilet, and one popular item to flush is unused pharmaceutical drugs. It seems a logical way to get rid of them, but traces of many drugs are showing up in drinking water nationwide. In 2006 and 2007, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, based in Las Vegas, screened 19 water utilities around the US for 51 different compounds. They found traces of pharmaceutical drugs, with the top 11 ranging from the mood-stabilizing drug carbamazepine, used to treat bipolar disorder, to a couple types of antibiotics, trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole, which is used to treat infections like tonsillitis caused by streptococcus bacteria. Naproxen, an anti-inflammatory used in the over-the-counter painkiller Aleve, was also among the top 11.
The concentration of these drugs in drinking water is a million times lower than medical doses, and is considered to pose no threat to human health. Although pathogen levels found in US drinking water are regulated, pharmaceuticals are not. While the levels of these drugs in our water may not be alarming, their presence serves to remind us about the chemicals that surround us and how we affect our environment.
To see how you should dispose of unused pharmaceuticals, just
The majority of unused pharmaceuticals should be thrown away in the garbage. Better yet, they should be taken to a pharmaceutical take-back program or household hazardous waste collection program. Do read the literature that accompanies the drug, for it is recommended to flush a few highly addictive drugs, and the White House Drug Policy site has a list of drugs you should flush.