Why Dispose of Unused Drugs?
The “chemical soup” that Lyandres mentions is of concern because of the strange mix of chemicals that we dispose of in our waste stream. These chemicals show up in trace amounts in our drinking water, creating a potentially harmful cocktail of chemicals.
Common chemicals in the waste stream include Prozac, Viagra, and caffeine. As she explained, no one understands the chemistry that occurs when these and other compounds are mixed together. Nor is much is known about the potential impacts on human health. But studies show adverse ecological impacts of endocrine disruptors in our waterways, including “intersex fish” – that is, the male fish in the Potomac River Watershed bearing eggs!
Two really important reasons to properly dispose of unused medicines
- To prevent accidental, and possibly fatal, use of the drug by people for whom the medicine was not prescribed.
- To prevent environmental contamination in of our waterways and soils.
What Can a Person Do To Help?
First, it is important to note that using expired medications is potentially harmful to your health. Once a medicine expires, not only can it lose its potency, but also its chemical composition may have changed.
Over the past two years, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has increased focus on this issue by instituting nationwide pharmaceutical “Take Back Days”. By making it easier for people to dispose of their medicines safely, the DEA has collected millions of pounds of drugs as a result of this program. The next National Drug Take Back Day is April 27, 2013 and will be administered by state law enforcement.
Commissioner Shore points out that sewage treatment plants do not have the capabilities to clean out the thousands of chemicals that get into the waste stream from home plumbing, storm water, and other sources. So we have to do our part to keep chemicals out of the water system in the first place.
Both Shore and Lyandres advise people to keep an eye on the expiration dates of their prescribed and over-the-counter medications. When the drugs are expired or unused, there are several safe ways to dispose of medicines to keep them out of getting into your drinking water. Below are our experts’ recommendations on safe disposal.
Disposing of Medicines Safely
- Local Municipal and Other Agency Collection Sites: Commissioner Shore recommends finding a drug collection location near your home. The Illinois EPA lists medication disposal locations in by county on its website. The MWRD also participates in the DEA Take Back days at several of its water treatment plants in Cook County.
- Special Envelopes Sold at Local Stores: Major pharmacies, such as CVS and Walgreens, sell specially designed envelopes for mailing used medicines to safe disposal facilities.
- Trash it as a Last Resort: If there are no local medicine disposal alternatives, the FDA recommends throwing away old medicine in a plastic bag after mixing it with kitty litter or coffee grounds. This is not the best option, since the bag goes into a landfill. There is a chance that eventually the package could leak and the drugs leech into groundwater. However, disposing expired medications in the trash is still better than flushing them down the toilet.