Recently, our community (Lewiston/Auburn, Maine) held a drug take-back day. This was part of the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day held annually on April 29th. It is estimated that 200,000 adults and a half-million children are inadvertently poisoned each year from pills that are not secure or have expired. This program assists you in safely disposing of unwanted medicines.
With a few exceptions, most medications are OK to use for up to one year past the expiration date, but many of us have some that are no longer needed and should be discarded. But it has to be done properly. We’ve all heard that you should never flush prescription medications down the toilet or toss them in the trash, but many wonder why. The following medicine disposal myths and facts from TakeBackYourMeds.org can help answer that question:
Myth #1 – Mixing medicines with coffee grounds or kitty litter before throwing them in the trash will prevent drug theft.
Fact: Throwing medicines in the garbage is not safe – especially for controlled substances like OxyContin, narcotics and other highly addictive and dangerous drugs – because the drugs can be found and used by others, even if they are mixed with undesirable materials like coffee grounds or kitty litter. Prevent drug theft and abuse by using a medicine take-back program to dispose of your unwanted medicines. It’s the best way to protect our kids and families.
Myth #2 – It’s a good idea to crush medicines before throwing in the trash.
Fact: Crushing pills to disguise them before disposal is difficult and dangerous and puts the handler at risk of exposure to the drug through skin contact or by breathing in the dust. Many medications are designed to release in the body over time, and crushing pills can release a dangerously high dose. The pill dust may endanger other family members and pets in the home, and some medications can be especially harmful to children and women of childbearing age.
Myth #3 – The best way to protect children from accidental poisoning is to throw medicines in the trash.
Fact: Throwing unwanted medicines in the household trash does not ensure that curious kids can’t get at them. There’s an epidemic of accidental poisonings from medicines in our homes – and children are the most common victims. Also, pets and animals are not deterred by kitty litter or other substances when getting into the trash and can potentially ingest the unused medicines. Human medications are the leading cause of pet poisonings, most often from trash-related toxic exposures.
Myth #4 – It’s OK to flush medicines down the toilet or pour them down the drain. The FDA encourages this because it’s not really harmful to the environment.
Fact: Medicines that are flushed or poured down the drain can end up polluting our waters, impacting aquatic species, and contaminating our food and water supplies. Most medicines are not removed by wastewater treatment plants or septic systems. Scientists have found medicines in surface, ground, and marine waters as well as soils and sediments in the Pacific Northwest. Even at very low levels, medicines in the environment hurt aquatic life. Using a medicine take-back program is a simple, sensible way to reduce the amount of medicines entering the environment.
Myth #5 – There is no reason why unwanted medicines cannot be put in landfills.
Fact: Modern landfills are well-designed, safe, and handle standard household waste well. However, medicines are a special type of hazardous chemical that we need to keep out of our solid waste system and landfills to prevent harm to people and the environment. Drugs can be very toxic for people and wildlife, even in low doses. Just as we do not put used motor oil or leftover paint thinner in the trash, we should not put these extremely potent pharmaceutical chemicals into unsecured curbside trash cans.
What You Should Do:
- Unwanted medicines should be disposed of properly like other household hazardous wastes. Medicine take-back programs, like those here in Lewiston/Auburn are the best way to dispose of unwanted medicine.
- Most police stations will take unwanted medicines from you and dispose of them properly.
- Walgreens has a drug take-back program (in most states) and in some places have kiosks to drop. Other chains may do as well. Check with your pharmacist or visit Walgreens online here.