There are serious dangers associated with storing and/or improperly disposing of unwanted medications:
- Older adults, teenagers and children could accidentally overdose or become poisoned by ingesting unused drugs;
- drugs may be stolen for abuse or illegal sale; and
- the environment suffers when drugs are thrown in the trash or flushed in the toilet.
To eliminate the risk that unwanted drugs may be inappropriately used, flushing them down the toilet is often viewed as the best practice, but this should not be done. The drugs make their way to our soil and drinking water posing environmental and health risks. People are working to address this issue.
Maine was the first-in-the-nation to institute a pharmaceutical mail-back program (www.safemeddisposal.com) in 2007 through the University of Maine’s Center on Aging through its partnership with agencies, pharmacies, the U.S. Postal Service and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. From the programâ€™s initiation to July of 2009, according to the Center on Agingâ€™s press release, the program has resulted in more than 1,000 pounds of unused and unwanted medicines being mailed back by more than 2,000 participants, drugs that would have otherwise contaminating the environment or abused by others. Agencies from other states are contacting the Center on Aging for information on how to start their own programs.
Here is how Maine’s program works:
- Mailing with pre-paid postage and instructions are delivered to participating pharmacies
- Those pharmacies hand the kits to interested individuals
- Participants complete the paperwork and place their unused medication in the envelope
- Envelopes get mailed to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency
- Medication is safely destroyed
The program is gathering anonymous consumer information along the way so that planners can determine which types of medication are most often disposed of and why. This information could help guide future prescription and disposal processes.
Since Maine’s program began, other states have begun their own programs. Here are a few:
If your state does not have a disposal program or you don’t live near a participating site, the commonly accepted practice for safe disposal of unused drugs is to:
- keep the drugs in their original container, but remove all personal identifying information from the bottle or package (crush pills);
- place the container in a sealable plastic bag;
- place that bag inside a trash item that hides the container; and
- throw it in the trash.
The best solution is to participate in a drug disposal program, but safeguard yourself, others and the environment by properly disposing of drugs yourself if such a program is not available to you.