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How To Safely Dispose Of Prescription Drugs and Over The Counter Medication Pills

Updated on February 14, 2008

What do you do with prescription drugs when it's time to dispose them? The majority of us have always believed that the best way to get rid of pills and medicines is to flush them down the toilet.

Flushing prescriptions down the drain would reduce the chance that they would be purposely abused by someone else finding them, be unknowingly injested by an animal, or the worse case scenerio, a child could get their hands on the medicines and mistake them for candy.

There are many reasons why it would seen beneficial to just flush medications down the drain as apposed to throwing them out in the trash, and until recently it has been the way we've been taught but the fact is, it's no longer considered the BEST way to get rid of the medications.

So Why Not?

Why shouldn't you throw out your medicines in the toilet?

well, for starters think of what those medications do to your body. Many medicines kill bacteria, not just the bad bacteria but the beneficial as well. These medicines do the same harm with every flush. Bacteria is responsible for the breakdown of waste in septic systems and at the waste water treatment facilities. Throw off that balance and the treatment process is harmed. You may not find lumpy's in your local waters, but just imagine swimming in a river where treated waste water that did not have a perfect processing. Hmm.

Also, these facilites are generaly not equiped to remove the medicinal substances from the waters. So the treated water that is eventually released into lakes, streams, and rivers are contaminated with the chemicals in the medicines. Think this isn't a problem and doesn't have any real effect? Think Again...

"When aquatic and amphibian species are exposed to small amounts of pharmaceutical and personal care products, it can result in decreased reproduction, delayed development and even additional appendages in some species. In 2002, 80 percent of streams sampled (139 rivers in 30 states) by the U.S. Geological Survey showed evidence of drugs, hormones, steroids and personal care products such as soaps and perfumes. "

Source: New Hampshire Department of Enviromental Services

So Then Where Do We Dispose Of Medicines?

Medications should go in the trash but you should take additional steps to ensure that the trash is where they will stay.

  • Dispose of the drugs in their original containers being sure that they are tightly secure. Wrap container in a small plastic bag and then again in another bag. This should be sufficient to keep others from finding your trashed medications, though you should always use a permenant marker to cover your name and any personal information on the bottle just in case this is indeed not enough. If you are worried about animals getting into the medications, include something foul tasting such as cayenne pepper.
  • Dissolve the medicines in a jar with water already intended for the trash. Such as a pickle or jelly jar. Add a absorbant solid such as cat litter, sawdust or oatmeal to prevent the liquid from leaking if the container is broken. This is also a good way to make a solid out of liquid medications. Adding cayenne pepper would also be good if you are worried this may happen though it is probably unneccesary.

Don't want to put them in your trash? Pick up the phone..

  • Contact your city authorities and ask if medications can be disposed of at household hazardous waste facilities.
  • Speak with your phamacist, local hospital, or medical clinic. They may accept old medications for safe disposal or may have information of where you can go.


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