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Protecting Our Waters: The Power of Proper Drug Disposal

For years, the main advice for drug disposal was to flush unwanted/unused drugs down the toilet. This assured that other people or pets wouldn’t be able to ingest these substances and accidentally overdose. While simple, this disposal method poses a possible threat to aquatic life, but also raises concerns about the impact on our own environment. From New York’s lakes to the rivers that flow through our cities, traces of flushed medications are present. However, through proper drug disposal we can reclaim the health of our waters and our environment.

Risk and Impact

When medications are flushed down the toilet, they often dissolve into the waste water of the sewer system. Although wastewater treatment plants remove many contaminants, they may not remove all the contaminants from medications. When this treated wastewater gets reintroduced into our rivers, lakes, and streams, trace amounts of these medications are released as well. The trace amount of these medications may not be a danger to humans,

but they are a danger to the wild-life in our environment. Fish that have been exposed to flush medications have shown behavioral and physical changes that disrupt their natural behavior, as well as life cycles, according to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

Year-Round Disposal Locations

One step we can all take to protect our streams is to dispose of unneeded medications safely. It is important to not just throw them away.

Many pharmacies in New York State have envelopes available for no-cost so that individuals are able to mail back their unused medications for safe disposal. Next time you are picking up your prescriptions, ask for an envelope to be able to take home! Some pharmacies also have bags that can de-activate opioids so that you can throw them away. Drug disposal doesn’t just stop with pharmacies! Many partners in Cortland County take part in Drug Take Back Programs, in which you can drop off unused or unneeded medications at available kiosks. These kiosks are usually located in pharmacies or even police departments. Some Drop-off locations in Cortland County are:

  • Homer Police Department

  • Cortland County Sheriff’s Department

  • Cortland Police Department

  • Guthrie Cortland Medical Center

  • SUNY Cortland University Police

Drive-Through Disposal Events

For many years, partners across the community have been working on opioid prevention. Healing Cortland is a partnership between Cortland Prevention Resources, law enforcement, CACTC and community volunteers, and is responsible for the disposal of thousands of pounds of unused prescription medications, and are safely disposed of. Healing Cortland organizes Drug Take Back Events at different locations in the county for convenient, drive-through drop-off. Bring your unused, unneeded, medications on September 30th at one of the 4 drive-through locations for easy disposal:

  • Cortlandville Fire Station, 999 Route 13, Cortland, from 9am – 1pm

  • Marathon High School, 1 Park St., Marathon, from 9am – 12pm

  • Cincinnatus Fire Dept., 5722 Telephone Rd., from 9am – 12pm

  • Homer Town Hall, 31 North Main St., Homer, from 9am – 12pm

In April, we collected 1,440 pounds of medications to be safely disposed of. Between the spring and fall events in 2022, we collected just under 3,000 pounds!

What if you can't get to a kiosk?

If you cannot get to a disposal kiosk or event, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of accidental overdose. After all, while we want to minimize water contamination, ensuring no one dies or gets hurt from accidentally taking medications.

The FDA has a list of medications that you can flush if there is no other option (because the risk of misuse or overdose is so great). The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation also says that, if you have no option but to throw medications away in the trash, follow these instructions:

  • Mix medications (do not crush tablets or capsules) with water and then add salt, ashes, dirt, cat litter, coffee grounds, or another undesirable substance to avoid accidental or intentional misuse of drugs.

  • Do not conceal discarded drugs in food.

  • Place all medications in an outer container, such as sealable bag, box, or plastic tub to prevent discovery and removal from the trash. Seal the container with strong tape.

  • Dispose of drugs as close to your trash collection day as possible to avoid misuse and/or misdirection.



New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. (n.d.). Proper disposal of prescription drugs. Retrieved August 29, 2023 from

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. (2019, July). NYSDEC Interactive Map [Web map]. Retrieved from,39.4623,-68.9801,46.0128

Intermountain Healthcare. (2023). Flushable Medications Information. Retrieved August 29, 2023 from

Harris, R. (2013, February). Traces of Anxiety Drugs May Cause Fish to Act Funny. Health Shots: NPR. Retrieved August 29, 2023 from

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