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. In one recent 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 pharmaceuticals pass through treatment plants or septic
systems to rivers or groundwater.
Drugs of concern include 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, especially by teenagers; and protects water quality
Disposal recommendations for household pharmaceuticals
- Dispose of pharmaceuticals down a drain or toilet.
- Burn household waste containing pharmaceuticals.
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. Tape the lid on
the container if it is not child-proof and there are children in the home;
- Mix the waste pharmaceuticals with an undesirable substance such as cat
litter or used coffee grounds;
- Place this mixture in a plastic sealable bag or a sealable container, such
as an empty margarine container especially if liquid;
- Remove labels from empty containers or conceal with marker, any patient
- Place the sealed container with the mixture and the empty pharmaceutical
containers in the trash as close to garbage pickup time as