I-Team 10 Investigation: State flushing unused medications

Posted at: 10/30/2013 6:13 PM

The state wants you to dispose of medications properly and has even initiated efforts to get you to turn in your old or unused prescription drugs to approved locations. I-Team 10 learned that some state-run group homes in the area are telling employees to get rid of residents' unused drugs by flushing them down the drain.

I-Team 10 has been in contact with state agencies Wednesday afternoon trying to figure out whether group facilities are required to indeed flush some medications. We're still waiting for a clear answer on that. But the state is telling you not to flush your unused drugs because of the potential environmental impact. Yet, at one state agency, the Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Services Office, it is the written protocol for dealing with patient drugs.

Until recently, Sue Miller worked at one of the FLDDSO group homes as a support assistant taking care of residents. She couldn't believe what she was being told during training. That they were required to flush any unused or outdated medications down a running water drain. Miller showed I-Team 10 a sample form they were required to fill out that instructs them to do just that.When she questioned it, she says she was told it was policy.


At the same time, the New York State Department  of Health and Environmental Conservation are promoting campaigns to end that practice and use designated drop off sites. Miller wants to know why the group homes can't simply take the medications there.

Sue Miller, former FLDDSO employee, said, "I don't understand how it can happen. How one agency says no and yet you're required as an employee to do this. And you know you shouldn't be doing it, but they're making you do it."

Of course, there are environmental concerns.  According to the DEC, when flushed, some drugs pass largely unaltered through wastewater treatment plants and enter rivers, lakes and streams. The concern is that aquatic wildlife are being affected and that long term exposure to antibiotics could create drug-resistant bacteria. I-Team 10 showed the state form to Peter Debes of the Sierra Club.

Peter Debes, Sierra Club, said, "It seems, in this day and age, unbelievable. We know that everything we do has some impact on the environment and to think that we can just dump drugs down the waste system and they're gone, out of sight, out of mind is the old strategy, right. This is not true anymore."


Miller did send an email to Governor Cuomo explaining her concerns. She got a response from the Director of Health Services at the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. That woman says controlled substances are flushed while non-controlled drugs are destroyed through a variety of methods. The email went on to say some DDSO's have participated in community disposal programs or have made arrangements with pharmacies or hospitals to dispose of unused medications. But those programs are apparently not the same as the take-back initiatives designed for the public.

For a link to a list of medication drop box locations, click here.