Resources & Education

August 20th, 2014

Rush to flush: Disposing of unused prescriptions properly can prevent unwanted exposure

Prescription medications can be beneficial when used properly. However, if not disposed of correctly, unused narcotics can pose a threat to both the patient and others around them. Proper disposal is easier than you think, with more resources and return programs becoming readily available.

Partnered with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the United Stated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) developed the first guide to proper disposal of prescription drugs in February 2007, updated later in October 2009.

Follow the simple steps below to keep yourself and others safe from unintentional exposure to unused medications.

Check your label:

Whether you’re building a bookshelf or getting over pneumonia, it’s incredibly important to follow the instructions. Whether printed on the label, or as literature included with your prescription, read all materials regarding your medication and its usage.

Prescription medications come with specific instructions for ingestion, as well as disposal. If it says unused materials can be flushed, remove them from the original container and flush down the toilet or sink.

However, if there’s no specific instruction, most medications can be thrown away in the household trash. The FDA strongly recommends mixing any unused medications with “undesirable substances,” such as coffee grounds or cat litter, in a sealed bag to deter children or animals from ingesting any unused prescriptions. Do not crush capsules or pills during disposal.

Taking the extra time to mix unused pills or patches with waste can prevent others from stealing and/or accidentally ingesting medications that could not only harm them, but also begin a long and difficult road of addiction and recovery.

Protect yourself:

When disposing of medications make sure to scratch out any personal or medical information, such as your name, address, date of birth etc., before disposing of the container.

Protect others:

Do not give your prescription to friends or family, as this is extremely dangerous. Medicine is prescribed based on a case-by-case basis. So, what could be helpful for one patient could be extremely harmful to another.

Immediate and proper disposal reduces the possibility of inappropriate use of narcotics and/or future addiction. If you have any questions about your prescriptions or how to properly dispose of unused medications, contact your pharmacist.

Use your resources:

The FDA and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have begun working with national and state governments to sponsor National Prescription Drug Take Back Days.

This list of drop off sites for used needles and prescriptions contains areas in Erie and Niagara County where patients can return any unused medications for proper disposal, removing any potential danger from their homes.

Some prescriptions cannot be returned, however, most of these medications can be disposed of properly by flushing. If there are no take-back days available in your area, call your community trash or recycling program, available in the blue pages, for further information.

DailyMed, recommended by the FDA, can also be used to search for medication information, disposal procedures and more.

Trust the flush:

Recommended by FDA and drug manufacturers, certain unused prescriptions can be flushed as the best course of disposal to prevent any unwanted contact.

In an environmental assessment, the FDA determined that flushed prescriptions add less to the surface water than medication processed by the body and passed through the urine.

Prescription drugs must be approved by the FDA before being made readily available for public consumption. When a company submits an application packet, part of the process requires that the drug be tested for its environmental effects.

This process helps confirm that flushing unused medication will not harm the environment in any way. According to the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has yet to find any evidence of negative health effects from disposed prescriptions.

An updated list of medications and their recommended disposal methods can be found here.

Keeping medications that are no longer needed creates unnecessary risks for the patient and those around them. The simple steps listed above can protect patients and others from unwanted exposure, temptation, addiction and more.

For more information and frequently asked questions, check out information on preventing substance abuse and rehabilitation available through Horizon Health Services.

If you or someone you love is abusing prescription painkillers, we can help. Please call our knowledgeable team at Horizon Health Services for more information on our inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation at (716) 831-1800.

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