In recent years, scientists have detected trace amounts of more than 150 different human and veterinary medicines in environments as far afield as the Arctic. Eighty percent of the U.S.’s streams and nearly a quarter of the nation’s groundwater sampled by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been found to be contaminated with a variety of medications.
In the meantime, according to an AP story, analysis of tap water supplies in major metropolitan areas conducted by the Associated Press has revealed that the water supply in 24 major U.S. cities — serving over 40 million people — are contaminated with trace amounts of pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, anti-seizure medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, psychotropic drugs, and pain medication.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Don’t flush old medications! Although much of the pollution comes from the urine of our over-prescribed population, flushing old medication clearly doesn’t help the situation. Individuals aside, one study estimated the nation’s nursing homes discard anywhere from $73 million to $378 million worth of drugs a year. Some are incinerated, but many are flushed.
Unused portions of these medicines must be disposed of properly to avoid harm to wildlife, pets, and people.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have created the smaRXt disposal campaign to educate consumers about how to dispose of medicines in a safe and environmentally protective manner. Here are our tips based on their recommendations:
There are currently 27 drugs deemed dangerous enough by the FDA (such as powerful narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances) to carry instructions for flushing (this will be clearly labeled) to reduce the risk to pets and family, or illegal abuse.
Find a Take-Back program
Drug take-back programs for disposal can be another good way to remove unwanted or expired medicines from the home and reduce the chance that someone may accidentally take the medicine. Contact your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service to see if there is a take-back program in your community and if there are any rules about which medicines can be taken back. You can also talk to your pharmacist to see if he or she knows of other medicine disposal programs in your area. See Disposemymeds.org for more.
For drugs not labeled for flushing, follow these steps:
• Add kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds (or any material that mixes with the medication and makes it less appealing for pets and children to eat) to the plastic bag.
• Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.
• Remove and destroy all identifying personal information (prescription label) from all medication containers before recycling them or throwing them away.
For more on disposing of other bathroom products, see Medicine Cabinet Clean Out
For more on prescription drug dangers: The Second Leading Cause of Death in the U.S. and 10 Common Medication Mistakes That Can Kill. Also see FDA: Popular Diabetes Drug Linked to Heart Attacks