Unused drugs kept in medicine cabinets, tossed in the garbage, or flushed down the toilet or drain can be serious threats to human and environmental health. Of concern are controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs, as well as over-the-counter medications. Proper management of these drugs reduces avoidable poisoning of both children and adults; prevents intentional misuse of unwanted prescription drugs; and protects water quality and fish.
More and more research indicates that there are impacts from drugs released into the environment. In one national study, scientists analyzed streams for 95 different organic wastewater contaminants, including pharmaceutical compounds. One or more of these wastewater contaminants appeared in 80 percent of the streams. Risks posed to aquatic organisms by long-term exposure to various pharmaceutical compounds are unknown. Wastewater treatment plants and septic systems usually do not treat or only partially treat pharmaceuticals, so chemical compounds from these drugs pass through treatment plants or septic systems to rivers or groundwater.
Disposal recommendations for household pharmaceuticals
While unused medicines can be hazardous, they are not normally accepted at Household Hazardous Waste collections.
Do not dispose of pharmaceuticals down a drain or toilet or burn them with household waste. This allows them to get into the environment, impacting fish, wildlife, or even you.
Instead, choose one of these options:
- Take waste pharmaceuticals to a designated drug take-back collection site
Before 2014, only law enforcement could legally collect expired and unwanted drugs. Now pharmacies, hospitals, and other medical facilities are allowed to accept them as well.
- Drug take-back events (usually in April and October of each year, sponsored by the US Drug Enforcement Agency)
If no Drug Take-Back sites or events are available, dispose of waste pharmaceuticals in the trash. Follow these basic guidelines:
- Take waste pharmaceuticals out of their original containers.and mix with an undesirable substance such as used cat litter, or coffee grounds;
- Place this mixture in a plastic sealable bag or other sealable container, such as an empty plastic container and;
- Place the sealed container with the mixture in the trash as close to garbage pickup time as possible, to prevent theft and misuse.