How to Safely Discard Prescription Medicine
Don’t flush or pitch your unused medications
It’s pretty common to find unused or expired medications in a household cabinet. However, just because they are no longer being taken does not mean they are safe.
Most medications lose their effectiveness after a certain amount of time. And some medications are so potent, they simply have no place in the home if they are not currently being used.
Opioids are especially dangerous when they fall into the wrong hands.
While there is an inherent danger of having strong, unused medications in your house, there is an equally important danger. This involves the disposal of unwanted medications.
The potential for this to occur is great with opioids prescribed after surgery, due to the fact many patients are discharged with medications they often fill but never use. At discharge, 92 percent of patients received an opioid prescription, but a whopping 63 percent were unused.
It adds up to a great many narcotics which could be used illegally. Consider that if a person is prescribed a drug they never use, they will be much less likely to track its wherabouts — which could have deadly consequences. The survey also notes two-thirds of heroin users are introduced to opioids through prescription opiate medications.
This, from the Mayo Clinic:
Nearly a third of patients responding to a Mayo Clinic survey said they used none of the opioids they were prescribed after surgery. The research findings, presented in April at the American Surgical Association annual meeting, also show that only about 8 percent of patients disposed of their remaining opioids.
“This research provides a road map for physicians and surgical departments. It shows there are certain surgeries and types of patients who are likely receiving significantly more opioids than needed,” says Elizabeth Habermann, Ph. D, senior author of the survey.
It’s possible to damage water supply, wildlife
Think it’s safe to flush old medications down the toilet? Think again. Medications can actually enter an aquatic ecosystem, despite the efforts of even the most-modern wastewater treatment plant filters. Additionally, disposing of medications like that or by throwing in the garbage (which eventually ends up in a landfill) is problematic.
A United State Geological Survey study found water in 80 percent of 139 streams tested nationwide contained traces of pharmaceuticals. This can cause damage to not only fish and wildlife, but could conceivably affect humans as well (although more testing needs to be done to verify this
The best way to remove medications and prescribed items from the house is to contact your local police department. Many law enforcement agencies will gladly take back unwanted medications, including prescription opioids.
We strongly recommend contacting your local department before dropping off items; some agencies only have drug take-back events on certain days. You really should not leave medications in your car for a future take-back date, either, as it is best to never leave any medication unattended in vehicles.
Alternative methods of discarding unwanted prescription drugs
Some local and chain pharmacies will also take back unwanted medications. If they don’t have a means of collecting these items, they will often know of locations that participate in take-back programs. Again, it is best to call ahead to confirm.
Some communities even have medical relief programs which collect unwanted medications and donate them to developing nations in need of aid.
The U.S Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events throughout the year, setting up collection sites nationwide for safe disposal of prescription drugs. You can visit the DEA website or call 800-882-9539 to find your local authorized collector.
You may also contact your local hospital or healthcare provider for suggestions on how to get rid of unwanted medications.
So, avoid the clutter and remove those unwanted and unsafe leftover medications.