The Right Prescription For Disposing of Medications

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – October 3, 2012 – Comment

Prescription medications are a beneficial part of many peoples’ lives, and we’re lucky that for the most part, getting scripts or refills is a no-brainer. But their limited shelf life requires us to put some extra thought into proper disposal, which isn’t always top of mind.

Many people assume it’s OK to dispose of medications (their own or their pets’) either by flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the garbage. Flushed pharmaceuticals can end up in our water systems, while meds thrown in the trash can take years to degrade and potentially make their way into ground and surface water.

Even though we conduct over a million water quality tests annually to ensure we are meeting or surpassing the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements for water quality and safety, it would be better if people helped protect water supplies by taking the right steps in disposing of pharmaceuticals. As part of an effort to establish a greatly expanded network of secure pharmaceutical disposal programs, many of our states have partnered with Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal (P2D2).

The P2D2 model is a collaborative effort between water utilities, police departments, pharmacists, and environmental stewards to install a two‐key drop box (similar to a mail box) in a secure location (e.g., police department, city hall, pharmacy) to collect unwanted pharmaceuticals. Anyone who desires to use the program simply drops unwanted medications into the drop box for collection.

If a P2D2 box is not available in your area, you can follow these simple tips to properly dispose of medications at home.

  1. Take unused or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers.
  2. Mix prescription drugs with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds, cat litter, or vegetable oil.
  3. Put the mixture in a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty milk carton, margarine tub or sealable bag.
  4. Conceal or remove personal information from the original drug container, including Rx number, by covering it with permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off.
  5. Place the sealed container with the mixture and the empty drug containers in the trash.

Source: White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

We can all take steps to improve the condition of our natural surroundings through proper disposal of materials, including pharmaceuticals. Protecting our water supplies is a collaborative effort shared by us all.