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Drugs ending up in water supply in Suffolk


More than half of Suffolk's hospitals, long-term care facilities and nursing homes are flushing expired and unused medications, leading to trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in Long Island's water supply, according to a new report.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a statewide group based in Farmingdale, reviewed the pharmaceutical disposal plans of 59 facilities and found that 51 percent reported relying on flushing medications down the toilet. A quarter of the facilities use a reverse distributor service to collect the unused drugs and 12 percent participate in a take-back program sponsored by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, according to the report, released at a news conference in Hauppauge.

"Our morning coffee should have coffee, milk and sugar, not Valium, morphine and Ambien," said Adrienne Esposito, the group's executive director.

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A 2005 study released by the U.S. Geological Survey reported trace levels of drugs in 28 of 70 water samples collected from Suffolk groundwater wells.

The environmental group is pushing for new state legislation and guidelines that would ban the practice of flushing and instead mandate that pharmaceutical companies handle the incineration and proper disposal of the drugs.

Matthew Bennett, senior vice president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America -- a Washington, D.C.-based industry group -- wrote in an email that "the creation of additional take back programs . . . is unnecessary when the easiest, most acceptable way to rid the home of unused medicines is to dispose of them in household trash," as suggested by the Federal Drug Administration.

Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) joined Esposito in calling for a uniform state policy to end the flushing practice.

"We don't want drugs in our drinking water even at these small levels to reach our bays and our waterways," said Hahn who chairs the legislature's environmental committee.

Spencer, a physician who serves as chairman of the legislature's health committee, said several of the medical providers he spoke to rely on flushing to prevent controlled substances like morphine and Percocet from getting into the hands of others.

"There has to be one message and that message is very simple -- we must keep these narcotics, these controlled substances and other medication out of water supply," Spencer said.

The study resulted from 2011 county legislation requiring health care facilities operating in Suffolk to report their medication disposal practices to the Department of Health. Citizens Campaign used those reports in the analysis released Monday.

Esposito said her group has reached out to Nassau officials about implementing a similar reporting policy but so far no legislation has been proposed.