The disposal of drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, presents some unique challenges for all of us, especially in terms of preserving our environment.
Guidelines from both the federal and state governments in most cases discourage dumping drugs down the toilet or sink because this type of disposal will cause drug residues to get into sewers and septic systems. If drugs are not properly prepared for disposal in landfills they may also decompose and seep into the groundwater.
Improper drug disposal can adversely affect the habitats for fish and other aquatic animals as well. Francisco Arcaute, who is a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told the Mirror that drugs in the water can also “affect humans by exposing us to ‘recycled’ drug residues in drinking water and foods.”
Brian Clemente, who is the President of Recycle Company, a company that disposes of drugs from pharmacies nationally, explained to the Mirror that drug disposal is a “huge problem” because many states have their own programs, and federal and state guidelines don’t always agree especially in the case of the disposal of controlled substances. Controlled substances make up only about 11 percent of disposed drugs, but the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) can fine states for not following their guidelines.
A spokesperson from the DEA, Rogene Waite, stated that the Office of Diversion Control “is re-examining and formulating policies” for proper drug disposal. At the federal level, the office of National Control Policy recommends taking unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers and throwing them into the trash. They also suggest mixing prescription drugs with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and putting them in impermeable, non-descript containers such as empty cans or sealable bags to make sure they don’t fall into the wrong hands. Individuals should also take advantage of community programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal.
Federal guidelines also recommend flushing prescription drugs down the toilet only if the accompanying patient information specifically instructs the user to due so. Examples of some flushable drugs are OxyContin tablets (oxycodone) and Percocet tablets (Oxycodone and Acetamininophen).
Steps for drug disposal from the California State Board of Pharmacy include:
1) Use the original container and for prescription drugs you should remove or scratch off any patient information.
2) Place some water into solid medications such as pills or capsules and then add sawdust, kitty litter or charcoal or powered spices like cayenne pepper.
3) Close and seal the container lids tightly with parking or duct tape. If disposing of blister packs of unused medicine, wrap them in multiple layers of duct tape.
4) Place in a container like a non-descript cardboard box and place in the trash close to its collection time.
Other disposal recommendations from the EPA are purchasing drugs only in quantities that will be used before they expire, accepting free physician samples only if you know you will consume them, and if you are not sure you can tolerate a new medicine, asking your doctor for a 10-day trial supply.
Additional information can be found at nodrugsdownthedrain.org or at pharmacy.ca.gov.