08.26.2015

Why you shouldn’t flush your unwanted medications down the loo

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Why you shouldn't flush your unwanted medications

If you’ve been following this blog for a couple of months, you know that I sometimes find inspiration for new posts from fibro and ME/CFS support groups on Facebook. (Don’t worry: I never use the names of the groups or their members!)

The other day I read a post that made me cringe. The poster explained that she was so happy because she had cleaned out her medicine cabinet and flushed all of her unwanted medications (about 15 bottles or so, if I remember correctly) down the toilet.

If you’ve read much about environmental issues, then you may have just cringed, too.

Years ago, I watched a TV news segment that reported traces of pharmaceuticals had been found in public drinking water. It seems that water treatment plants aren’t equipped to filter out medications when people dispose of them down the toilet or sink. So, we end up drinking someone’s cast off Lipitor or Cymbalta once the water is recycled.

It’s an issue even if you’re on a well and septic system because these drugs can seep into the groundwater and infect your well, along with nearby waterways. During one study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, water was tested from 139 streams in 30 states. Researchers found that 80 percent of the streams contained traces of pharmaceuticals.

No one really knows what impact this has on the environment. But from a human standpoint, this could be a very dangerous situation. You’re essentially ingesting medicines that aren’t intended for you. Those of us with fibromyalgia and ME/CFS are already notoriously sensitive to chemicals in our environment. Imagine the effects of unknowingly drinking someone else’s diabetic or high blood pressure meds. It’s a scary thought.

We all have these random bottles of pills that we’ll never use due to side effects or because they’ve expired or for other reasons – especially those of us living with chronic illness. So, what should you do with your unwanted medications instead of flushing them down the loo?

United States

In the U.S., the answer to this question isn’t straightforward and simple like some other countries, but here are a few ideas for disposal:

  • The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has a list of dropoff locations here.
  • Some pharmacies will recycle unwanted medications. Ask your pharmacist if that’s a service they offer.
  • If all of these methods fail, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers instructions for how to dispose of medications safely in your household trash. It also advises that certain drugs (listed at the link) should still be flushed to reduce the chances of them being accessed by others (although I would recommend against doing this due to the potential for pollution mentioned above).

Australia

The Australian Department of Health oversees the National Return and Disposal of Unwanted Medicines (RUM) program, which allows residents to return unwanted medications to any pharmacy, at any time, for disposal.

Canada

Canadians can bring their unwanted medications to any pharmacist any day of the year for disposal. The Canadian government advises against flushing drugs down the toilet or sink.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom allows residents to return unwanted medications to any pharmacy or dispensary at any time.

Donate your empty bottles

The Malawi Project needs your empty pill bottles. This nonprofit collects empty pill bottles and sends them to African medical facilities for medication storage. Without bottles, health-care workers end up wrapping medications in pieces of paper. Click here (and scroll down to the flier at the bottom of the page for the “Prescription Vial Program”) for directions on how to donate your empty bottles.

What is your favorite way to reuse empty medication bottles? Comment below!

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