We’ve all been there: staring at a half-empty, expired prescription in the cabinet, wondering what exactly we’re supposed to do with old pharmaceuticals.

What we should do is dispose of them properly and never flush or dump medications down the drain. It doesn’t matter whether the drugs are prescriptions or over-the-counter cough syrups. Medications can be life-saving for people, but human drugs aren’t good for wildlife. Once they enter the water cycle, even small amounts of pharmaceuticals can be harmful.

Studies from around the world have found drug-resistant bacteria in dolphins, reproductive system disruption in frogs, and elevated levels of pharmaceuticals in fish that live downstream from wastewater treatment plants. Because sewage plants aren’t set up to remove medications from the water, what we flush and pour down the drain winds up in our local waterways. Many aquatic plants and animals are sensitive to even trace quantities of medications, which can disrupt their growth and reproduction.

If you have unwanted medications in your home, you can get rid of them responsibly. This weekend, the Drug Enforcement Agency is holding a national medication take back program. More than 3400 sites across the country will accept unused, unwanted and expired medications for free on September 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time. To find the location nearest you, visit http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/takeback/.

Posted by Meg Matthews, conservation