FDA, State Websites Explain Medication Disposal

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How should you dispose of unneeded or expired medications? This question is answered by a variety of state websites and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has just launched a web page for consumers on medication disposal. There is a difference between the FDA site and most state websites, so consumers may do well to consult their own state’s disposal options as well as those offered by the FDA.

Research shows that an increasing amount of prescription and over-the-counter drugs are detectable in the rivers, groundwater, and drinking supply in the United States. One way these drugs get into the water supply is when they are disposed by flushing them down a sink or toilet. Wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to remove these substances, so medications such as antibiotics, antidepressants, narcotics, and antipsychotics are making their way into the environment, posing a potential risk to both humans and animals.

Thus far the exact health implications of exposure to medications in the drinking supply are not known. However, some states have opted to help consumers avoid contributing to the levels of medications in the water supply and offer them suggestions on alternative ways to dispose of the drugs.

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The main difference between the FDA website and those of the states is that the FDA advocates disposing of selected medications down the sink or toilet, while the individual states strongly urge its residents to avoid flushing any drugs in this manner. In Utah, for example, their state website clearly tells people “Do Not Flush! Do Not Pour!” and provides links to locations where residents can bring their unwanted medications. The website also provides information on how to dispose of medications in other ways that do not involve flushing them, similar to the other suggestions on the FDA's Safe Disposal of Medicines website.

Illinois’ message is similar to that of Utah, and its state Environmental Protection Agency promotes medication disposal methods that do not involve flushing them into the water supply. The Illinois EPA website provides disposal information and a list of disposal locations throughout the state. Some of the other states, cities, or municipalities that have websites to help their residents properly dispose of medications include Florida, New York, California, Michigan, and Arizona.

One alternative to flushing medications down the toilet is to mix them with a substance that makes them undesirable, such as kitty litter or used coffee grinds. The mixture should then be placed into a plastic bag, tightly sealed, and thrown into the trash. Another alternative is to bring the medications to a designated drug take-back center (including some pharmacies) or site, which many cities and municipalities have established. State, city, and municipal household hazardous waste facilities can be contacted for information on safe medication disposal.

SOURCES:
Food and Drug Administration
Guerrero-Preston R, Brandt-Rauf P. PR Health Science Journal 2008 Sep; 27(3): 236-40
Nikolaou A et al. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 2007 Feb; 387(4): 1225-34
Schwab BW et al. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 2005 Aug; 42(3): 296-312

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