Dispose Of Unwanted Medicine Properly

“And, please, Mrs. Jones, give Fluffy the tablets until all are gone.”

If you have pets' or people's medication that requires disposal, be sure to follow these simple instructions.

Everyone who has ever been dispensed medication has heard that admonition. Still, we see pet owners all the time who say, “I had some of Rover’s medicine left over from that cough you treated last year, so I gave it to Harry when he started coughing.” Click here to read about the dangers of that practice.

Today, however, we’re focused on environmental safety for unwanted medications.

Long ago we were told to flush old medicine down the toilet. It seems logical, and it’s a surefire way to know that no one will ever take it.

Or will we?

It turns out that in this more-enlightened age we are taking those old medications that were flushed. When pharmaceuticals go through sewage treatment plants, they are not broken down. The effluent, or clean water discharged from the treatment facility, is usually pumped into a nearby waterway. The water we drink, and the finfish and shellfish we eat, come from that water or waterways it flows into.

And drinking-water treatment doesn’t remove the drugs, either.

There are legitimate reasons for having leftover medication. For example, your human or pet loved one passed away before the course of therapy was finished, or a medication change was required during treatment. Or, a drug such as aspirin may have expired before you finished the bottle. Whatever the cause, you find yourself with medicine you can’t use. What are your safe alternatives?

Your veterinarian may be able to put the medicine to use. Most clinics keep a stash of such drugs for people who can’t afford their medicine. Perfectly good but returned pharmaceuticals cannot be sold, per federal law. However, they can be given away to pets in need.

Medicine dispensed to a human patient can usually be returned to the original pharmacy for proper disposal.  Member pharmacies then submit the medications to disposal companies who incinerate them in an environmentally-friendly fashion.

Many such drugs can be used by pet patients, so call your veterinarian to ask him whether he can add it to his clients-in-need collection.

Rite-Aid Pharmacy provides its customers with a fee-based mail-in disposal program. Some independent pharmacies participate in other commercial programs.

The notable exception is controlled drugs. You may identify those by seeing a capital C followed by a Roman numeral on the label. Obviously, DEA frowns on sharing such meds, so use a program specifically designed for controlled drugs, if you have those.

Local government agencies may operate a “take-back” program, in which the products will be destroyed.

If you find it necessary to dispose of unwanted medicine yourself, here are some tips:

  • Do not flush the medicine down the toilet or pour it in a sink drain.
  • Remove personal information from the labels first. As most labels are difficult to remove, a wire brush makes short work of them.
  • Medicine can be put into your household garbage. First, put it in a can or plastic bag with old coffee grounds or cat litter. Doing so will provide an absorbent environment should a leak develop inside the container.
  • If neither coffee grounds nor cat litter is available, use multiple layers of plastic, preferably bags that will seal.

Safety first. Whatever approved method of disposal you use, follow instructions carefully so that everyone can stay safe.

See you Monday, Dr. Randolph.


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