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We take a lot of medicine. Households with multiple family members with chronic health conditions can easily go through several pill containers a month. With or without such conditions, you probably have an assortment of medications for mild ailments such as pain, cough or nausea.

Believe it or not, the same medicine that helps your headache to go away or alleviates a stomach ache can actually make others and our environment sick if not disposed of properly. Check out the guidelines below to be sure you are safely disposing of your unwanted medicine.

Medicine should not be flushed down the toilet!

Many people assume it is safe to just toss unwanted pills or liquid medicines into the toilet and flush them down. Resist the urge! This puts the chemicals that make up your medicine directly into the water supply. Most water treatment systems are not effective in removing all chemicals found in medicine from the drinking water. While it may be tempting to toss an anti-depressant or two into the water system, this is not a safe method of medicine disposal.

A Tylenol in the Trash Takes TLC

Disposing of your unwanted medications in the trash is possible but requires a little bit of time and patience AND is not completely safe for either the handler or those that may be exposed to the trash. If you choose to take this route, however, follow these steps before tossing to the curb:

  • Pour liquid into a sealable bag or dissolve pills or capsules in water and pour into sealable bag.
  • Add a deterring solid to the bag that will make the concoction less appealing to animals or children. Kitty litter or coffee grounds are good options. You can also do your part in ensuring controlled substances don’t wind up in the wrong hands.
  • Seal the bag thoroughly and toss in the trash.
  • Always be sure to remove any identifying information from pill or liquid bottles. You don’t want someone rummaging through your trash and finding your name, possibly birth date, and even your personal health conditions. These labels can be shredded just like other personal and secure information.

A Sort Of Pharmaceutical Recycling

Though medicine and technology are just not there yet to be able to safely recycle unwanted, unused, or expired medications, there are many take-back programs available. This is by far the safest and best method of medicine disposal.
Check out this website to find a takeback pharmacy location near you: http://www.disposemymeds.org/index.php/pharmacy-locator. These locations commonly will NOT take controlled substances. However, check with your local police department, as they often will accept unwanted/expired controlled substances. Also, you can call the DEA call center at 1-800-882-9539 to find a receptacle near you that will accept controlled substances.

What’s the Danger in Disposing Drugs?

What’s the big deal, really? Is it really necessary to go through all of this trouble? YES!

  • We know not to toss paint thinner in the trash, right? For the same reasons, you do not want to just toss medicine into the trash. There are harmful chemicals present in medications that we do not want seeping into the ground or air.
  • Even mixing with kitty litter or coffee grounds does not ensure safety. The leading cause of pet poisonings is from human medications. Your pets (and your children for that matter) are curious little beings and can get into these hazardous substances even if they are mixed.
  • Crushing pills to be dissolved and put in the trash is dangerous. Some medications are designed to be released over time. Crushing these pills releases all of the medicine at once. Skin contact with the medication can cause accidental absorption and could harm the handler. Also, the powder can easily be dispersed in your home and can be harmful to children and pets.

Bottom line

Disposing of unwanted, expired, or unused medications should not be taken lightly. They are serious substances that can have lasting, harmful effects on those we love, our neighbors, and our environment if not handled safely. Although there are ways to increase the safety of trash disposal, the very best way to protect everyone is to use a drug takeback program. Take the time to be sure we are all kept safe and healthy!