The veterinarian's role in and attitude to the disposal of unwanted pharmaceuticals

William E. Sander, Sarah A. Zack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A wide range of pharmaceutical chemicals have been documented in rivers, streams, lakes, coastal waters, groundwater, sewage sludge, landfill leachate, soils, air, and plant and animal tissues nationwide and around the world. Veterinarians’ unique relationship with pharmaceuticals compared to other health professionals provide a wide breath of potential pathways. Given the role that veterinarians can play as both a source of new pharmaceuticals to the environment and a method of drug disposal, as well as their role as trusted professionals, the veterinarian is key to keeping unused and unwanted medicine out of the environment. However, little is known about their behaviors. The objectives were to: learn about the drug disposal practices of the veterinarian and their clients from the veterinarian's perspective; learn about the importance of the topic of drug disposal to veterinarians; and determine the outreach needs and preferences of veterinarians and how best to educate about this issue. This research was conducted through a cross-sectional online survey of licensed veterinarians in states within the Great Lakes region working with those states’ veterinary medical associations or licensing boards. The 587 respondents were 72% female, 81% small animal practice, and 52% practicing in suburban geographic areas. Legal disposal requirements were the biggest factor influencing veterinarians to change pharmaceutical disposal behaviors followed by avoiding misuse and abuse. Veterinarians discussed disposal with clients in only 11% of appointments with clients. The most notable barriers include not remembering to mention, not enough time, not high enough priority, or not enough information known by the veterinarian. Continuing education opportunities need to be provided across the spectrum of practicing veterinarians so they can have a greater understanding of the problem of pharmaceutical waste and potential avenues they can implement to mitigate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100718
JournalEnvironmental Challenges
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Drugs
  • Great lakes
  • Pharmaceutical disposal
  • Pharmaceutical waste management
  • Veterinary medication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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