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How to Correctly Dispose of Old Medications

Many people have expired or unused over the counter or prescription medications in their homes. They just sit there because you don’t pay attention to them once you don’t need them. With over the counter meds, you may have purchased too much, and it’s pretty common to receive more of a prescription drug than you need too. How can you correctly dispose of these medications?

You have a few options. The FDA suggests looking into community drug take-back programs, and that’s certainly a good option if it’s available for you. You can check at http://www.disposemymeds.org/ to see if there’s a program in your area. These programs can handle the safe disposal of medications for you.

The problem is that take-back programs aren’t available everywhere. The FDA’s next bit of advice is to check the label of the drug to see what it says about safe disposal. Some say they’re safe to flush, others are not safe to flush.

Another alternative is to throw them into the trash. To make the drugs unusable, you can mix them with something. Some suggest taking them out of the bottle so that they aren’t so easily recognized as medication. The FDA very clearly says to NOT smash capsules or tablets; just mix them with kitty litter or something else that people won’t want to go through.

They say some medications can be simply flushed down the toilet, but you need to be aware of the list for that, as well as consider the potential for environmental impact. The FDA has a list of meds they say can be flushed safely, but not every state agrees that you should do this.

What About Drugs in Our Water?

The problem with flushing medications is that you’re putting them straight into the water, and they don’t always get well filtered out. This isn’t just a problem for human consumption; it impacts wildlife as well.

This is why states such as California, Minnesota, and Florida (as well as other states) prefer that old medications go into the trash if you can’t find a take-back program or a hazardous waste program to handle them for you. California has some very clear instructions (PDF) on how to package medical waste for disposal in the trash.

That said, a major cause of medication in the water is what passes through our bodies when we use medication, not just dumping it in the toilet. If you want to limit your contribution to that, you need to think about your medication use. You may or may not be able to do anything about cutting back, depending on your own needs.

The ecological harms are still being studied, and you can learn more about that on the EPA website. If you haven’t looked at this before, you may be surprised by how many products are causing the problem, including body lotions, sunscreen, cosmetics, as well as medications. It’s great motivation to really think about the products you use, not just for your own health, but for the environment.

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