How to Dump Old Medications: Don't Use the Toilet!

What to do with these? For starters, don't sell them to the neighborhood kids. (Photo: Ryan McVay/Getty Images)

Feb 1, 2011

According to the Henry J. Kaiser foundation, more than 3.6 billion prescription drugs were administered in the U.S. in 2009, and it's estimated that as much as 40 percent of medications go unused. That factors out to almost 1.5 billion doses of pharmaceutical waste each year.

Aside from wasted ingredients and manpower, and squandered energy used in manufacturing and transportation, do you know what's really sad about all those discarded medications?

That so many of those drugs end up in our water supply: Recent studies by the United States Geographical Survey have found pharmaceutical drugs in ground water, untreated drinking water sources, and streams.

So, if you have old prescriptions lying around, do not flush them down the toilet. Even a staggering pillhead should know there's a better way to ditch the old stash.

The FDA suggests taking pills out of their original bottle, sealing them in a Ziploc bag or small can, and filling the container with sand or kitty litter to make the contents undesirable. Seal the container, and toss it into the trash, under a piles of wet coffee grounds and fish heads.

If the thought of your old antibiotics sealed up for centuries of containment insults your eco pride, there may be a greener path to disposal.

In late 2010, Walgreens announced a mail-in medication recycling program in partnership with Sharps Compliance Corporation. Go to any Walgreens and purchase a special envelope for $2.99. Pop your meds into the envelope and drop it in a mailbox. The envelope will be incinerated, and the ashes turned into Pella-DRX tablets, which are used as building material in patios, park benches, highways and buildings.

You can access the same program through smaller, independent pharmacies, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association.

The only hitch is that this mail-in option forbids controlled substances, which include Ambian, Valium, Adderall, Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax and Ritalin. If these are the meds you're shedding, the Office of National Drug Control Policy suggests the ole seal-it-up-in-a-bag-with-kitty-litter trick. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) organizes a National Take-Back Day for these and other coveted and chronically abused medications.

Or, do a Web search for drug take back programs in your area. 

Related Stories:  A Gut Check for Big Pharma: Pharmaceuticals Potentially Harming Our Drinking Water | Bay Area Group Press EPA on Chemicals in Water

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