Each year, millions of U.S. citizens continue to flush their old prescription medicine down the toilet despite a warning issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back in 2003. Improper disposal of old medicine not only pollutes our nation’s water supplies, it also accumulates in garbage dumps where animals can be poisoned or scavengers can collect up the old drugs to use or resell.
With hormones and antibiotics now showing up in our waterways, scientists are encouraging both private citizens and nursing homes from using the old stand-by to dispose of both over the counter and prescription medications.
According to the Associated Press, one study estimated that our nation’s nursing homes alone throw away between $73 million to $378 million worth of antibiotics, hormones and other medications each year. Larger medical facilities often incinerate expired pills, but they too flush medicines down toilets as a means of mass disposal.
A few years ago, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found remnants of medicines including narcotic painkillers, estrogen from birth control pills and flushed vaginal rings, antidepressants and blood pressure medicines in water samples from thirty states.
While the long-term effects of medicinal water pollution and urban runoff aren’t known, scientists from the EPA and USGS are concerned that exposure to even small amounts of toxins might cause ecological damage. Studies have linked hormone ingestion to reproductive side effects in fish, and environmental contact with antibiotics may promote an increase of drug-resistant germs.
So what are we supposed to do with those old pills in our medicine cabinets? Why, mix it with old kitty litter of course! While there is no perfect solution, officials suggest placing ground up medicine in your cat’s old kitty litter, or coffee grounds if you don’t own a cat, will stop animals from ingesting pills in dumps and will keep the human scavengers away.
If you don’t have kitty litter or coffee grounds on hand, when given a choice, experts say disposing medications in the trash is better than putting them into the sewers, but only because the runoff takes longer to get into our streams. Make sure to crush up medicines in pill form first, and then place the powder back into its original container and duct tape the cap.
Another option is to look up local hazardous waste collection programs in your area and see if they accept expired medications. If they do accept old pills, it would be best to grind them up first and send them back unlabeled. Your local poison control center might be able to suggest disposal locations in your area.
Pharmacies across the nation have been holding “clean out your medicine cabinet” awareness programs each fall, but no matter what time of year you choose to wade through your old prescriptions, most pharmacies will gladly accept your old and unused over-the-counter and prescription medications for proper disposal. Contact your local pharmacy to see if they are currently running a disposal program.