Throwing medications directly into the trash or in open bottles is not a good idea, since a child or pet may come across them and pop them into their mouths. Contrary to popular practice, you should also not flush them down the toilet or rinse them down the drain, where they may end up in ground or surface water, unless the patient information that came with the prescription states that it is safe to do so.
In 2007 the Federal government issued guidelines for the safe disposal of prescription drugs (updated in 2009). The best method is to take them to a pharmacy that offers a take-back program. But, if that is not an option—as it is not in Mariposa—the recommended option is to remove the substances from their original containers, crush them (if in solid form) and them mix them with some type of distasteful material such as coffee grounds or kitty litter. The mixture should then be sealed in a “non-descript” waterproof container that would not attract attention, such as a coffee can with the lid taped shut, and thrown into the trash.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also sponsors a National Drug Take Back Day, which gives people an opportunity to legally and safely dispose of pharmaceuticals and other drugs—no questions asked. The date for this year’s take back event is Sat., April 28. Mariposa County has participated in the past. Call the Sheriff’s Office or check back at our website to see if they will be taking part.
Why go to so much trouble? According to the National Office of Drug Policy website, a 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that “over 70 percent of people who used prescription pain relievers non-medically got them from friends or relatives, while approximately 5 percent got them from a drug dealer or from the Internet. The same survey showed the scale of the problem is vast with more than 7 million Americans reporting use of a prescription medication for non-medical purposes in the past 30 days. Therefore, a comprehensive plan to address prescription drug abuse must include proper disposal of unused, unneeded, or expired medications. Providing individuals with a secure and convenient way to dispose of medications will help prevent diversion and abuse, and help to reduce the introduction of drugs into the environment.”
The jury is still out on whether or not flushing pharmaceuticals down the toilet negatively impacts human and/or environmental health. While the results of a study by the Associated Press in 2008 indicated that trace amounts of a “vast array of pharmaceuticals,” ranging from antibiotics to sex hormones, were present in the drinking water of “at least” 41 million people in 24 large urban areas, the World Health Organization, in a June 2011 review of the literature on the subject, concluded that “…appreciable adverse impacts on human health are very unlikely at current levels of exposure in drinking-water.”