Medicines play an important role in treating certain conditions and diseases, but they should be taken with care and disposed of with care. Unused portions of these medicines must be disposed of properly to avoid harm to wildlife, pets and people.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have created the Smart Disposal campaign to educate consumers about how to dispose of medicines in a safe and environmentally- friendly manner.
Resolving to clean out your medicine cabinet this year is a good idea. Hanging onto unused medications can increase the chances of taking the wrong one. Medications also can end up in the hands of others, and old drugs lose their potency, reports the Harvard Heart Letter. Medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse and abuse. Rates of prescription-drug abuse in the United States are alarmingly high. More Americans currently abuse prescription drugs than the number of those using 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 family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet. In addition, many Americans do not know how to properly dispose of their unused medicine, often flushing them down the toilet or throwing them away — both potential safety and health hazards.
But 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 medications 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 now are discovering bacteria in the wild that not only are resistant to antibiotics but actually can 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 a few innovative drug disposal programs in which citizens can drop off medications along with household hazardous waste, mail unused drugs to their state’s drug-enforcement agency or donate drugs to the needy.
Locally, the Hinesville Police Department has a drop-off container in its office where prescription drugs that are not liquid may be dropped off 24 hours a day.
What can you do to ensure safe drug disposal? The Harvard Heart Letter offers these suggestions:
1. Do not flush unused medications and do not pour them down a sink or drain.
2. Use a local drop-off collection like the one at the Hinesville Police Department or ask your pharmacist if he or she can take back medications.
3. Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag. If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.), add water to dissolve it. Add to the bag kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds or any other material that could mix with the medication to make it less appealing for pets and children to eat. Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.
4. Remove and destroy all identifying personal information from all medication containers before recycling them in a take-back program or throwing them away.
5. Always 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, you can take a few small steps to make an impact in safeguarding lives and protecting the environment by disposing of unused medicines properly.
Now that is a good prescription for a healthy planet and healthy waters.
Also, Win-dex Award nominations are being accepted through June 30.
To obtain a nomination form, call Keep Liberty Beautiful at 880-4888, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce at 368-4445.