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Got drugs? Don’t flush them!

COMMUNITY CENTERaskHRgreen CommunityClean Water & WaterwaysGreen Homes & BusinessesSep 26, 2014Sarah Crawford

Author: Sarah Crawford

This Saturday, September 27th from 10am – 2pm is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day Take a look through your medicine cabinet and I bet you will find at least 1 container of unwanted or expired medication that you should get rid of.    I went through mine and I found not 1, not 2, but 3 containers of expired medication!  Unused medication in your home can be accidentally ingested, stolen, misused, and abused.  According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 6.5 million Americans currently abuse prescription drugs and the majority of these drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from – you guessed it – the home medicine cabinet.  Those are scary facts if you are a parent like me.

So why can’t we all just flush our unused medications?  Wouldn’t that be the easiest way to get rid of them?   Well, yes it’s easy, but it’s not responsible or green – so let’s talk green for a moment.  For about 1.6 million people in Hampton Roads, what you flush down your toilet, or put down any drain in your home, ends up at a HRSD wastewater treatment plant.  These plants are great at reducing biodegradable materials, pathogens, and the nutrient content of our waste before it is discharged into local waterways.  However, they were not designed to remove pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs).  Some of the chemicals in medications and personal care products, like sunscreens and soaps, can get right through these treatment plants and into the environment, and at high enough concentrations, they can harm aquatic organisms.  You may have needed that medication – but the fish certainly do not!  HRSD’s PPCPs in Wastewater brochure provides more information on local and national research efforts surrounding pharmaceuticals in wastewater, but don’t forget that YOUR FLUSH COUNTS.  One of the EASIEST things to do to reduce the concentration of pharmaceuticals in wastewater is to properly dispose of unused medication.  

Participating in the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is a great way to safely dispose of drugs.  Just find a collection site near you.  If you can’t make it to a collection site on Saturday don’t worry, we’ve got 2 other options for you:

1.  Find a pharmacy close to you that offers a take back program.  Currently, many local pharmacies are restricted from accepting controlled medications – but this is about to change!  Next month, new DEA regulations will allow pharmacies to become registered collectors and accept unwanted medication via a collection receptacle or a mail-back program.

2.  If you don’t want to wait you can dispose of medications properly at home.  Just follow these 5 steps:

  1. Keep medications in the original bottle.
  2. Mark out all identifying personal information.
  3. Crush solid medications or dissolve them in water.  Mix all medications with kitty litter, sawdust, or another substance that will make it unsuitable for human or animal consumption.   
  4. Seal the bottle with a lid.
  5. Conceal the bottle within a non-recyclable container and put it in the trash for landfill disposal.

I know what you are thinking ….”but Sarah, 5 steps is a lot, I don’t have time for that”.  Oh yes you do!  And to prove just how easy it is, my 3-year old is going to show you how to do it.  Remember those 3 expired bottles of medication I found tucked away in my medicine cabinet?  Madelyn is about to dispose of them – check it out!  And keep in mind while watching that you can probably do this much faster without a toddler!