How To Dispose of Medications Safely

Whether you simply stopped using them and no longer need them, or you found a bottle at the back of your medicine cabinet that has long-since expired, how are you supposed to properly dispose of medications? Sometimes, flushing them down the toilet is actually an option, but that’s not always the case depending on what the bottles contain.

The Controlled Substances Act finally addressed disposal when lawmakers amended it in 2014, but rules still vary somewhat state-by-state and sometimes clear and specific instructions regarding the proper methods of disposal are simply non-existent.

Some states have medical waste providers that ship the unwanted or expired medication back to a corporation or non-profit which incinerates the waste. Other programs make sure acceptable drugs are used in a medicine repository or redistribution to the needy.

Ultimately though, there are at least 5 tried-and-true ways to safely and lawfully get rid of unwanted prescription drugs.

  1. Medicine Take Back Events. Some local sanitation departments hold events quarterly and have even effectively taken back 1 million pounds of medication. All you have to do is make sure the medication has been kept from heat, light, and out of reach of children.
  2. Police Departments and Medication Disposal Boxes at Pharmacies. Drugstore’s drop boxes tend to be open only during business hours, but police departments will usually accept medications at all hours. Before placing any prescription bottles in disposal boxes, make sure you black out your name with a permanent marker, but leave the medical information visible so that the proper authorities can identify them.
  3. Mail Them in for Incineration. You can pick up envelopes at your local pharmacy that you can use to mail your medication out to be incinerated. This ensures any toxicity the meds may contain does not make it into wastewater or landfills.
  4. Disguise Your Medications. If you do choose to throw medication out, it is recommended you mix it with kitty litter or coffee grounds — something to discourage others from picking through garbage to use it themselves — or put it in something opaque like a box to hide its presence in your garbage.
  5. Flushing. Although the medications do enter the water systems this way, a study published in the journal of Science of the Total Environment in 2017 showed that the eco-toxicological risk was negligible. There are 15 medications on the Food and Drug Administration Flush List which are mostly opioids and other medicines that have caused epidemics in the past.

Originally Published in WSJ 9/27/2018
Original Article By Heidi Mitchell
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