Why Your Drug Disposal Matters

10 months ago  •  Add Comment  •  by Amanda Alfredson

By: Amanda Winslow, PharmD, BCPS

For the average American it probably has been quite a while since they checked the expiration dates on the medications in their home. For most it is very easy to overlook the medications that have been hanging out in their medicine cabinet for months or even years, but there are several reasons why it is important to educate customers on proper drug disposal. Their medications may be expired and may not work appropriately, leftover medications can be misused/abused by family members, especially children, and without the help of a doctor or pharmacist, it may be difficult for customers to tell if they would have a drug-drug interaction when mixed with a new medication prescribed. For these reasons, it is important to educate and promote regularly reviewing medications’ expiration dates and properly disposing of expired or unneeded medications.

Why you should use a reverse distributor

When disposing of your medical waste, there is a very important reason why you should look to a Reverse Distributor for help. Reverse Distributors specialize in carefully and safely disposing of medications to ensure that they do not negatively impact the environment. Therefore, they keep up with current laws and regulations as to how to properly dispose of these potentially hazardous medications. All commercial facilities are required to abide by local and federal laws to properly dispose of their waste. By using a Reverse Distributor, you can do your part in helping your community and environment.

How can you do more to help?

While properly disposing of your medical waste can contribute to a huge positive impact, as a pharmacist there is still more that you can do. There are plenty of laws in place for commercial facilities, yet not many in place for common households. Many people either don’t know that there is a proper way to dispose of their expired medications and if they do, they don’t know where they can bring them. Here’s where you come in; pharmacists can be advisors to their communities on how and where to properly dispose of their meds.

important information when educating your customers:

Why Proper Drug Disposal Is Important

It used to be commonplace to flush medications or to throw them in the trash. We now have more research and information on why this is not the best practice. Studies that have been conducted have shown some dangerous trends related to the environment. Traces of medications have been found in marine waters as well as groundwaters and even soil. Most people would probably expect this was from flushing medications, but even throwing them in the trash could lead to runoff from the landfill that could contaminate the water supply.  This contamination of the water supply has led to observable effects in aquatic life. Some studies have shown altered actions in fish with low levels of certain drugs, including antidepressants and hormonal medications. Also, low levels of antibiotics in the water supply can possibly lead to antibiotic resistance.

How to Properly Dispose of Medications

The absolute best way to dispose of medications is through a drug take-back program. All you need to do is find a location to drop the medications off at, and they will take care of the rest! The DEA has a website for public disposal locations that are searchable by zip code for up to a 50-mile radius. You can take all medications here, including controlled substances. These locations are mostly in police or sheriff offices or in retail pharmacies. In many communities, there is also a special event called National Take Back Day that usually occurs once or twice a year in April or October. Keep an eye out on social media or the news for events near you!

If there are no disposal locations near you, or you feel like you more urgently need to get rid of some medications, there are some other, less preferred methods for disposal. The FDA has a posted list of flushable medications that can be found here, which includes mostly opioid medications in many different formulations (tablets, patches, gels, etc). By flushing the medications, you reduce the risk of abuse or accidental overdose. Non-controlled medications can be disposed of in the trash after some modifications. First, black out all of the patient information on the labeling for your own privacy and safety. Next, you want to alter the medication so that the tablets cannot easily be found and ingested. Some examples of alterations include mixing in a small amount of vinegar, table salt, sawdust and/or kitty litter. Be careful if you decide to crush the medications – some can be harmful, especially to women of childbearing age.  Check the labeling on the bottle for any warnings of this before handling the medications. Lastly, put the medication bottle into a separate, non-transparent package and tape it shut. This will disguise the fact that medications are being disposed of.

Consider adding the task of checking medication expiration dates onto your spring-cleaning checklist to ensure it is being completed at least annually. You should also dispose of unfinished pain medications or unused antibiotics at this time. Partial courses of antibiotics should never be used – always obtain a fresh, complete bottle in the case of future infections. Disposing of medications properly and in a timely manner can help us keep our families and environment safe!

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