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Think Twice Before Flushing Your Old Medicine

By Larry Lucas, Vice President, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)

Like many of you, I care a great deal about the health of our environment. As a parent, I want to be sure my kids can enjoy the benefits of clean air and water.  I also want to be sure children can enjoy and respect all that the great outdoors offer. To achieve this, we all must do our part to responsibly protect the environment – including ensuring the safe disposal of medications.

Sometimes, trace levels of pharmaceuticals can be detected in our water supplies – primarily as the result of normal patient use or improper disposal. But it’s important to remember that research studies suggest it is highly unlikely that these extremely small quantities of pharmaceuticals would be harmful to human health. We can all further minimize this risk by learning how to safely dispose of old or unused medicines.

The safe disposal of medication is relevant to everyone’s personal health safety and the protection of our environment. Great strides have been made to protect water quality by removing impurities using advanced wastewater treatment technologies. However, because even the best sewage treatment technologies do not completely remove all contaminants, it’s important that you know how to safely dispose of your unused medicines. If you do not use all of your prescribed or over-the-counter medication, you can take a few small steps to make a huge impact in safeguarding lives and protecting the environment by disposing of unused medicines properly:

  • With a few exceptions, DO NOT FLUSH unused medications and DO NOT POUR them down a sink or drain.
  • Dispose of unused medication in household trash. When discarding unused medications, ensure you protect children and pets from potentially negative effects:
    • Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag. If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.), crush it or add water to dissolve it.
    • Add kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds (or any material that mixes with the medication and makes it less appealing for pets and children to eat) to the plastic bag.
    • Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash. 
    • Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information (prescription label) from all medication containers before recycling them or throwing them away.
  • Check for approved state and local collection programs.
  • Always refer to printed material accompanying your medication for specific disposal instructions.
  • Consult your pharmacist with any questions.

I know what you’re thinking – you thought flushing medicines was the safe way to go, right? You’re not alone. Many of my friends used to do this to help keep medicines away from their pets and children. We now know that there are safer, more environmentally friendly ways to dispose of unwanted medicines.

America’s pharmaceutical research companies are driven by a commitment to enhance and save lives, and the patient and environmental safety related to our products is a top priority of our industry. That’s why we’ve partnered with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the American Pharmacists Association on the SMARxT Disposal Program (www.smarxtdisposal.net). This program educates people on how to safely dispose of medicines and highlights the environmental threat posed from flushing medicines down the toilet.

As parents, we all want to leave this world a little bit better than when we entered it – for our own children, and for their children. Safe, smart disposal of unused or unwanted medications is one easy way to do just that.




Supported by America's Pharmaceutical Research Companies

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