Disposing of old medications

I read the Wall Street Journal just about every day. Today’s Health Mailbox was concerning old medications. A reader wrote in:

What is a safe method for disposing of old pharmaceuticals? I’ve been told they can enter drinking-water sources if they are flushed.


Now, this is actually a pretty good question. I get asked probably once every week to ten days, and I’ve never had an answer that I’ve been satisfied with. Tara Parker-Pope, the Health columnist for the journal, responds explaining the research behind the claims that these old pharmaceuticals can get into drinking water — all undoubtedly true. She then goes on to suggest that patients contact their local community pharmacies for advice, because she doesn’t have a surefire method of disposing them:

The best advice is to ask your local pharmacy if it has a medication disposal program. Your pharmacist could incinerate medicines along with other pharmacy waste products.

At my pharmacy, we do not have such a program, nor do we incinerate pharmacy waste on site. (We do, however, ship PHI off to the home office where I assume it gets incinerated, though for all I know it could be shredded instead.) What we normally do is simply throw old pills in the trash. I guess that makes us bad citizens. The EPA, on the other hand, recommends simply flushing the old drugs down the toilet (PDF).

[tags]Pharmacy, medication disposal, EPA, environment[/tags]

3 thoughts on “Disposing of old medications

  1. I cannot believe that the EPA recommends flushing them. That just goes to show how out of touch that agency is- if indeed it did recommend that course of action. We (as a pharmacist myself) have been told for years now DO NOT FLUSH MEDICATIONS. They DO end up in drinking water. DO NOT FLUSH MEDICATIONS. What you do with them depends on your locale, availability of medication disposal programs at pharmacies and MD offices but flushing them is never appropriate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *