Back in the day, if you had unwanted medication - perhaps something that had expired or that you didn't need to take anymore - you disposed of it by flushing it down the toilet. For many years, this was the recommendation from health professionals and it's objective was to keep children and animals safe. It was also an effort to keep seniors from getting confused by the multiple pill bottles in their medicine cabinets and to keep everyone safe from the dangerous effects of certain medicines that can cause organ damage when they become old and turn toxic.
A few years ago, the Department of Environmental Conservation realized that this old advice was no longer a good idea. Medications find their way into our waters and cause all kinds of hazards for fish, wildlife and people. Instead, they've come up with new steps to throw away these prescription medicines safely.
The following steps come directly from the DEC's website:
- Treat medications (liquids and pills) by adding water and then salt, ashes, dirt, cat litter, coffee grounds, or another undesirable substance, to avoid accidental or intentional misuse of drugs. Do not conceal discarded drugs in food to prevent consumption by scavenging humans, pets or wildlife.
- Hide all medications in an outer container, such as sealable bag, box or plastic tub to prevent discovery and removal from the trash. Seal the container with strong tape.
- Dispose of drugs as close to your trash collection day as possible to avoid misuse and/or misdirection.
Not long ago, in conversation with a nurse, the topic of flushing, as the disposal method for old medications, came up in conversation. She was not aware that the above new guidelines were in place. It is for this reason that I wanted to get the word out. An ordinary person is not likely to be aware of the newest recommendation if, to begin with, an active health worker is not.
Collection events are now held every year throughout New York State. I'm sure other states have their own environmental departments with similar programs. The DEC's website above will give you all the information you need to make an informed decision. As an alternative, you can also send it to a licensed disposal facility through the use of a specially designed envelope sold in participating pharmacies -Pharmacy Locator. You'll need to check this web address to adhere to the regulations set forth by this company (and the government.)