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Extension Agent: What to do with unused medicines

By By Erika Bochat
April 24, 2012 at midnight
Updated April 23, 2012 at 11:24 p.m.

Erika Bochat, extension agent

Is your medicine cabinet filled with expired drugs or medications you no longer use? How should you dispose of them?

The Food and Drug Administration worked with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to develop and issue the first consumer guidance for proper disposal of prescription drugs in February 2007. Updated in October 2009, the federal guidelines are summarized here:

1. Follow specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.

Despite the safety reasons for flushing drugs, some people are questioning the practice because of concerns about trace levels of drug residues found in surface water, such as rivers and lakes, and in some community drinking water supplies.

However, the main way drug residues enter water systems is by people taking medications and then naturally passing them through their bodies, says Raanan Bloom, Ph.D., an environmental assessment expert in FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, scientists to date have found no evidence of adverse human health effects from pharmaceutical residues in the environment, nonetheless, the FDA does not want to add drug residues into water systems unnecessarily.

2. Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. The Drug Enforcement Administration has scheduled another National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, at Victoria County Sheriff's Office, located at 101 N. Glass St.

This is a great opportunity for those who missed the previous events, or who have subsequently accumulated unwanted, unused prescription drugs, to safely dispose of those medications. For general public inquiries, call 1-800-882-9539.

3. If no instructions are given on the drug label and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash, but first:

Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.

Put them in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.

Before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.

Sources: fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely; deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/index.html

Erika Bochat is a Victoria County extension agent-Family and Consumer Sciences.

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