Discarding Old Prescription Medications

WalnutCreek Zone 7b/8aFebruary 14, 2012

In our house are several outdated prescription medications. Everything I read says not to flush them down the toilet, not to throw them away in the trash, etc.

How does one discard old, outdated prescription medications?

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I'm an environmental engineer. A large manufacturing company I worked for ran its own pharmacy for employees. When the pharmacy had outdated meds, we consulted with the city-run wastewater treatment plant who told us it was fine to discard them down the drain. There are some chemicals that are incompatible with water but they are ones that are used in manufacturing and in more concentrated levels than any prescription for human ingestion. Throwing them in the trash (whole) is not advisable because someone "could" find them and take them.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 7:00PM
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Some communities have "take-back" programs. Here's info from the FDA.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to dispose of unused medicines

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 7:43PM
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Our town/city had a drive through drop off day a couple months ago. It was held at the police station - pills had to be in a clear bag, sealed and was dropped into a locked box.

We have been told not to dispose of them in the water system.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 8:05PM
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My pharmacy takes back any and all old meds (prescription or not) and disposes of them for me.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 9:38PM
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Check with your local pharmacy - they may take old medications for proper disposal. Also check the website for your city - they may have suggestions or a special "household hazardous waste" collection. The website for my city explicitly says DO NOT FLUSH old medications, and if you can't find a place that will take old meds, bag them and put them in your trash. If they're wrapped well I don't think anyone will find them, and I think it's really bad for the water supply to put them down the drain.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 9:50PM
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In our area flushing medication is HIGHLY discouraged. Water quality is affected by Rx's, antibiotics and estrogens have been found in drinking water. I personally wouldn't put them in the trash either, I'd be concerned about seepage into groundwater in landfills.

So, what do you do? My pharmacy sells little pre-paid vinyl mailers for a few dollars and you can put all your medications in them and send them to a disposal company. I'm too cheap to do that in my town it's not necessary. Our police department has a big pill disposal box in the lobby, it looks like a mail box, but it's for pills and Rx things. You can drop things in there anytime at all. It's free and very user-friendly.

In my town they ask you to rip all the labels off your medications so there is nothing to identify you as the owner. I usually take all my pills etc and pour them into a plastic baggie and dump them in. The pill bottles are actually recyclable, so they go in with my recyclables. I think that pharmacies also take back empty pill bottles, but I've never done this.

I would check with your waste disposal company's customer service department and also, call your town and find out if they have special disposal opportunities. So many people are still flushing meds! In most places water treatment plants just can't process eliminate meds from the water. It doesn't just affect human health, it's also affecting wildlife.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 10:28PM
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My town does nothing for old meds. We had a ton of pain medications to deal with after my father died. His doctor told us to take them all out of their containers and mix them up in a baggie, then throw the baggie in the trash. That way, even if someone finds them, they have no idea what the pills are.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 1:54PM
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WalnutCreek Zone 7b/8a

Thank you all so much. I had already asked at my pharmacy if they had a disposal program - they do not. My little town does have a hazardous waste collection program that occurs about once a year; will have to check with them to see if that includes meds.

Thanks for the link, natal. I will read it and follow any advise I can find.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 6:02PM
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I was going to suggest a haz waste disposal if you had it available.

NEVER flush anything but human or animal waste down the toilet PLEASE! Especially if you're on a sewer system. Hormones and some antibiotics don't dissipate in the waste water treatment system and are discharged to streams causing serious unbalance in fish and wildlife. And all waste water is dumped directly into a major stream system, so it doesn't get diluted too much at the dump site.

In a septic system, the drainfield will absorb some distillates, but the meds may settle down in with the solids. There would be much less effect on the groundwater system than directly into a wastewater treatment system.

If you have trash burning available, it's probably safe to burn them. Also, if your trash disposal incinerates garbage rather than burying it, or dumping it in the ocean, it's probably ok to put it in a sealed container in the trash.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 11:25PM
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I've put them in a baggie and taken them to my pharmacy. I use a black marker to completely black out all words, including the bar code, before throwing away the bottle.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 2:32AM
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Lurker physician assistant here... Crush the tablets/capsules and mix them with coffee grounds to make them unpalatable, then discard all in a plastic bag.

Good for you, for looking for a responsible solution.

I wouldn't take them to a pharmacy. Addicts and stupid people can get jobs in pharmacies, as anywhere else, and the drugs could be diverted.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 4:44PM
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