Have you ever wondered what to do with an old, half-full bottle of medication? Or have you played the role of caretaker for an elderly family member and found more than a few expired prescriptions lying around their home? Well, disposing of these unused pharmaceuticals can be tricky, and in some cases--if tossed out carelessly--quite dangerous. Waste pharmaceuticals can come in many forms, including, pills, capsules, creams, liquids, and aerosols. The Dangers of Drain Disposal Municipal wastewater treatment systems aren't designed to properly sanitize the active ingredients of these medications from city water, so washing these medications down the drain is not a safe option.
Furthermore, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if your home utilizes a septic tank, prescription or over-the-counter drugs that are flushed down the toilet can leach into the ground and seep into ground water. Specifically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, hormones, and contraceptives can have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem of lakes and freshwater bays. A study conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has shown that "low concentrations of alkylphenols [the ingredient in many spermicides] and antidepressants in water have a measurable effect on fish responses and alter reproductive behaviors." Keeping unused medication in a bathroom medicine cupboard or kitchen cabinet is no better a solution however, as accidental poisoning from medicines stowed away in the home unsecured is the second leading cause of death in both infants and adults. Household Disposal of Waste Pharmaceuticals The EPA recommends a five step process for disposing of prescription waste. Here are those listed steps:
1.) Remove all prescription drugs from their original containers.
2.) Place the unused medication inside of a plastic tub, such as an old margarine container with a lid, or a thick sealable bag.
3.) Mix the drugs inside the plastic container with an unpleasant substance, like pet litter or coffee grounds.
4.) Conceal any personal information that may be printed on the empty prescription containers, including your name, address, and also the RX number, by using a felt pen, scratching it out, or by removing the label completely, cutting it up, and throwing it away separately.
5.) Add the empty drug containers to the drug mixture and seal the plastic container (use duct tape for a better seal if necessary), the entire container can now safely be placed in the trash. Never try to burn pharmaceuticals to get rid of them-the fumes can create dioxins and other air pollutants, not to mention the vapors could be toxic if inhaled. The dangers of prescription disposal can be mitigated if you have a garbage disposal which goes directly to an incinerator. It's a good idea to still follow the five steps listed above, and then place your pharmaceutical waste in the garbage disposal.
Even if you don't know if your garbage goes directly to an incinerator, most state environmental agencies agree that disposing of medication in this manner is the safest method. A Better Way Although it isn't against the law to dispose of household pharmaceuticals in the trash, it is can still be harmful. Fortunately, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) decided in its Disposal of Controlled Substances ruling on September 9th, 2014 that prescription waste can now able to safely disposed at participating local pharmacies. Pharmacies that do participate in this take-back program will have collection receptacles set out for unused mediation, so all you will have to do is drop your pharmaceuticals off at a convenient location near you.
But, if you are required to keep medications in the home for long periods of time, it is a good idea to label and if possible-lock up-any medication that may be harmful to unsuspecting family members. Reducing the overall prescription waste you have will make it easier to dispose of. You can do this by asking your doctor for the lowest advisable dose if you require antibiotics, and being sure to always take the full prescribed amount of any prescription. Disposing of medications doesn't have to be difficult, but following safety procedures is a must for the health of the environment and your community alike.