Attention Pill Poppers: Propers Disposal of Old Medication
By Scarlett Johnson '11
I’m sure most of us have at one time in the past had left over pharmaceuticals. Maybe you know someone who had an allergic reaction to a medication, had to get a new prescription but did not know what to do with the old medication. I myself, after having my wisdom teeth removed, was left with a bottle of unused Vicodin and no idea what to do with it (well, some idea but not any legal ones). Turns out, proper disposal of medication is not that difficult.

First, let’s consider why the proper disposal of old medication is important. Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) are now considered a new group of rising environmental contaminants. As Dr. Warren Morgan in the Health Center sad, “The potential for discarded medications and personal care products to contaminate groundwater (drinking water) supplies is just starting to be appreciated. And the long-term effects on humans and other organisms are poorly understood. We still have a lot to learn, but one thing seems clear. The time-honored advice to flush unused medication down the toilet is no longer appropriate.”

Past research has shown that improper disposal of antibiotic drugs, steroids and birth control can have numerous detrimental effects on the environment. For example, certain male fish have developed female reproductive organs, and viruses, bacteria and pathogens have developed alarming antibiotic resistances. PPCPs have also been found, at very low concentrations, in our own drinking water sources.

So what should you do with those leftover medications? It’s simple: keep any unwanted drug in its original container, place it in a sealable bag, close it tightly and throw the package away with your trash. Done. Ideally, you’d mix it in with some undesirable substances (i.e. kitty litter, sawdust, sand, salt or coffee grounds if it’s in liquid form, water or alcohol if it’s in dry form) to the bag as well in order to hide the pharmaceuticals and make it less appealing for wild animals (or wild children) to eat — just make sure you seal away your medications before you toss them out. If you happen to be squeamish about putting more plastic into our landfills, you could look into a community drug take-back program or some upcoming local collection event for proper disposal. In addition, you may want to remove any personal information from your medication containers. But more importantly, to prevent having to deal with unwanted drugs in the first place, try filling your prescriptions in monthly batches. Unless the label or your provider explicitly says you can, you want to be sure you do not flush the drugs down the toilet or pour them down the drain. Doing so is largely how it escapes into our environment, demasculinizes innocent male fish and puts us all at risk.

Not everyone may be a superhero but this is one small thing you could do to save Nemo, that guy who works behind the counter at Rao’s or even yourself from exposure to some potentially hazardous stuff. Getting rid of leftover or expired medications is easy and uncomplicated, do us all a favor and take the time to properly dispose of your old pharmaceuticals.

Issue 05, Submitted 2010-10-06 03:03:10