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Drug-free fish

This smallmouth bass was counted during a shad study in the Delaware River. The same species in the Susquehanna River is experiencing an intersex condition that may be attributable to human medications.
TRR photos by Sandy Long

January 15, 2014

While the medications we consume are meant to help us, when it comes to their potential impact on other species, the news is not good. In the past, we have been instructed to flush unwanted medications down the toilet. That strategy is no longer advised in Pennsylvania, where a better alternative is being put into place. According to Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) Executive Director John Arway, even low doses of pharmaceutical and over-the-counter drugs can ultimately harm fish. “Research shows that once prescription drugs and other medicines end up in our waterways, they are being absorbed by fish,” said Arway. “We have seen a greater frequency of an intersex condition in smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River, with males showing signs of eggs in their reproductive systems and having a protein in their systems that should only occur in females. We have also found sores and lesions on fish, which may be due to the exposure of these fish to the unintended consequences of these drugs.” Targeting the problem, a new statewide drug take-back program has been launched to more safely dispose of unused and expired prescription and over-the-counter medicines. The initiative aims to improve overall water quality and to protect the health of the state’s fisheries. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove such contaminants, and home septic systems deliver even worse impacts to nearby waters. The MedReturn program provides a better option by establishing secure medicine return boxes throughout the state, providing a means to get rid of medications safely and anonymously. For additional details about the program and to see the locations of MedReturn boxes, visit