LECOM Professor Testifies Before State House Committee on Proper Disposal of Drugs

Elliott Cook, PharmD, BCPS, an assistant professor at the LECOM School of Pharmacy, testified before a Pennsylvania House Majority Policy Committee on Thursday, August 5th in Erie. The Policy Committee is examining clean water issues in Pennsylvania. Dr. Cook explained how current procedures for disposing unused pharmaceuticals are confusing and contradictory for consumers. He said improper disposal methods can harm the environment and release toxins into the water supply.

Elliott Cook, PharmD, explains the dangers of disposing of drugs into the water system before the Pennsylvania House Majority Policy Committee.  (Photo Courtesy: Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster))

Dr. Cook testified that many consumers dispose of their medications by throwing them in the trash or flushing them down the toilet. He said government agencies often give out conflicting information, noting the Food & Drug Administration and White House recommend mixing drugs with coffee grounds or kitty litter before throwing them away. At the same time, they recommend flushing controlled substances down the toilet. “Neither of these techniques destroys the active chemical structure of the drug or its metabolites,” Dr. Cook testified. Only proper incineration will do that, he explained later. Adding to the confusion, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service oppose flushing pharmaceuticals because toxins can enter the water supply. 

Dr. Cook also explained pharmacies are prohibited by law from accepting unwanted or expired drugs. He said state lawmakers would have to amend the Controlled Substances Act, Pennsylvania Pharmacy Act, and hazardous waste regulations to let pharmacies accept unwanted drugs. However, he said that could create staffing issues for pharmacies and incur additional costs to ensure proper disposal.

Dr. Cook predicted more chemicals from unwanted medications will end up in our waterways for two reasons: more prescriptions are being written and pharmacies can dispense 90 day drug supplies. He said the EPA does not require water departments to test and monitor for pharmaceuticals. Dr. Cook concluded better guidelines need to be established to ensure pharmaceuticals are disposed of safely.

The House Majority Policy Committee plans to hold more hearings on clean water issues. Once all of the information is compiled, lawmakers could decide to draft new legislation about pharmaceutical disposal or create new public awareness campaigns to educate the public about proper drug disposal.


The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and LECOM School of Pharmacy offer innovative and affordable education in osteopathic medicineand pharmacy. From campuses in Erie, Pennsylvania, Greensburg, Pennsylvania and Bradenton, Florida, LECOM provides student-centered pathways to prepare the next generation of healthcare professionals. Prepare yourself for medicine as your life’s profession.


August 6, 2010
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