Safely dispose of your prescription drugs

Many people make New Year’s resolutions to get their home more organized and clutter-free. Regularly cleaning out the medicine cabinet and getting rid of old, expired or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements is important. In the past, we were encouraged to flush these down the toilet or put them in the garbage. Well, it turns out that neither of those options is generally good.

Our municipal sewage treatment plants were not designed to remove many of these chemicals and antibiotics, steroids and all kinds of other drugs are turning up in low levels in our lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. The number of different kinds of drugs, hormones and chemicals that we use and discharge into our watersheds is growing— not just from medications, but also from personal care products. Even the drugs that we use that aren’t completely used by our bodies are excreted and passed into the wastewater stream. All of this is starting to increase risks to our ecological systems and aquatic life in unforeseen ways. Although there don’t appear to be any adverse human health effects yet, the long-term effects are not clear and this is the subject of all kinds of research.

When drugs are tossed directly into the garbage, there’s a risk that kids and animals can get them— that can be a really bad thing, depending on what’s in there! These drugs can leach from landfills into our ground water and come back to haunt us.

For the best option to dispose of your prescription medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist or call your city’s waste management service to find out if there’s a community drug collection, take-back and disposal program. If there isn’t one in your community, follow these steps from the
Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet or drain unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs you to do so. For information on drugs that should be flushed visit the FDA’s website.

To dispose of prescription drugs not labeled to be flushed, you may be able to take advantage of community drug take-back programs or other programs, such as household hazardous waste collection events, that collect drugs at a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service and ask if a drug take-back program is available in your community.

If a drug take-back or collection program is not available follow these steps from the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s guidelines :

1. Take your prescription drugs out of their original containers.

2. Mix drugs with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.

3. Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub, or into a sealable bag.

4. Conceal or remove any personal information, including Rx number, on the empty containers by covering it with black permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off.

5. Place the sealed container with the mixture, and the empty drug containers, in the trash.

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