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How to safely dispose of medicines
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Using medicines safely includes proper disposal of them.

Keeping out-of-date meds around can be a serious problem, according to the Harvard Heart Letter. Hanging onto unused medications can increase the chances of taking the wrong one. It also can make it more likely for medications to end up in the hands of others for whom they were not intended. Some old drugs can lose their potency or have their chemical makeup change in an unhealthy way, so they need to be disposed of to keep them from being taken by accident.

Medicines that languish in cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse and abuse. Currently, more Americans abuse prescription drugs than cocaine, hallucinogens and heroin combined, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Studies show that teens who abuse prescription drugs often obtain them from the medicine cabinets of family and friends.

In addition, many Americans do not know how to properly dispose of their unused medications, often flushing them down the toilet or throwing them away.   Both methods create potential safety and health hazards. Have you ever thought about where the medicine will end up? Scientists are finding everything from aspirin to Zoloft in our streams, rivers and lakes. The traditional advice over the years has been to flush unused drugs down the toilet or put them in the trash. Neither is a good method, according to the Harvard Heart Letter. The medications we take can end up in our water supply in one of two ways. We secrete it in our urine (which we can’t control), but many of us also still flush unused medication down the toilet, contributing to the rising amount of pharmaceutical pollution found in our water supply. In 2008, the Associated Press found that dozens of pharmaceuticals end up in our water supplies and, eventually, in our tap water. That’s because water-treatment plants are designed to neutralize biological hazards, such as bacteria, but not pollutants such as antibiotics.

Scientists are discovering bacteria in the wild that are not only resistant to antibiotics, but can actually live off them. Drugs also can kill helpful bacteria in septic systems and pass largely untouched through sewage-treatment plants. Children and animals can get into drugs tossed in the trash, and once in landfills, there always is the danger that drugs can trickle into groundwater.

Regulations prohibit medication recycling. However, there are drug-disposal programs in which citizens can drop off medications, along with household hazardous waste, or even mail unused drugs to their state’s Drug Enforcement Agency. Locally, the Hinesville Police Department has a drop-off container in its office where non-liquid prescription drugs may be dropped off Monday through Friday. The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office also has a container outside its office on Airport Road available 24 hours a day. We also accept old medications in partnership with local law enforcement at our quarterly Recycle It! Fairs. The next fair is set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, in Hinesville, Midway and Walthourville. For more information, go to, call 880-4888 or email

What can you do to ensure safe drug disposal for your family? The Harvard Heart Letter offers these suggestions:

• Don’t flush or pour unused medications down a sink or drain.

• Use a local drop-off collection, like ours.

• Ask your pharmacist about taking back medications.

• If you must put medication in the trash, pour it into a sealable plastic bag. If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.), add water to dissolve it.

• Add kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds or any material that mixes with the medication and makes it less appealing for pets and children to eat to the plastic bag. Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.  

• Remove and destroy all identifying personal information (prescription label) from the containers before “recycling” them in a take-back program or throwing them away. We keep print rollers on hand at our fairs for people to use if they need to do so.

Follow your medication prescriber’s instructions and use all medications as instructed. If you do not use all of your prescribed or over-the-counter medication, follow these steps to make a huge impact in safeguarding lives and protecting the environment by disposing of unused medications properly.

Editor’s note: Much of this information was printed in a previous column.

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