Opioid Contamination Found in Washington While New York Helps Reduce Contamination

Improper drug disposal is an issue that affects us here in New York and across the nation. While researchers in Washington State recently found water contamination from improperly disposed drugs, New York State recently approved a policy to combat this issue.

A recent experiment conducted by biological researchers from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has shown trace amounts of opioids in mussels in Puget Sound near Seattle. It is not uncommon for pharmaceuticals to find their way into our waterways, but never before have opioids been detected in marine shellfish.  

Scientists found oxycodone, an addictive pain-relief medication in the opioid drug group, present in mussels in three out of 18 test sites. The affected mussels were located in highly urban areas close to Seattle.

The purpose of the experiment was to detect water contamination and pollution in Washington waterways. While the presence of opioids was perhaps the most unsettling, a handful of other drugs such as antidepressants, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and other medications were found in the test sites.

The researchers claimed that the opioid contamination likely came from nearby wastewater treatment plants. These plants often do not test for waste containing common pharmaceuticals such as opioid painkillers. While the oxycodone contamination was reported not to have a substantial effect on mussels, detrimental impacts to other forms of marine life such as salmon are not outside the realm of possibility.

Improperly treated waste and pharmaceutical drugs that are wrongly disposed of lead to such drugs inevitably ending up in the water systems. The results of this experiment are incontrovertible evidence of water contamination and marine habitat disruption due to inadequately treated waste and possible threats to public health.

State legislators took on this issue here in New York.

This past legislative session, members of NYLCV took action to urge legislators to pass the Drug Take Back Act (A9576/S7354) in order to help avoid similar situations in New York State.  The bill will implement a statewide safe pharmaceutical take-back program to prevent the improper disposal of pharmaceutical drugs and reduce medication abuse by requiring chain pharmacies to collect drugs on-site or by mail. By sending over 2,000 emails to legislators, over 700 members voiced their discontent with water contamination by pharmaceutical drugs and asked for legislation prohibiting such pollution and risks to public health.

Legislators took notice and passed the Drug Take Back Act in both chambers.  The bill now provides an excellent model for other states on drug disposal legislation, bringing New York a future of an environment free of pharmaceutical contamination.