Friday, December 7, 2012

Flushing Medications Leads to Not so Healthy Waters

Cold and flu season are well underway through much of the United States.  Many people stock up on decongestants, cough syrup, and pain relievers to get through it.  But what should you do after the illness has passed?  Over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, like prescription medications, have expiration dates after which time their safety and potency is no longer guaranteed by the manufacturer.
If your pharmaceuticals (over-the-counter or prescription) have expired or you no longer need a specific medication, you should know a few things about medication disposal.  First of all, you should never flush pharmaceuticals down the toilet. When you take medications, some of the chemicals are absorbed, but you still excrete some.  Wastewater treatment plants are not specifically equipped to remove pharmaceuticals.  If you flush medications, the excreted chemicals and the flushed chemicals together will both be going to the wastewater treatment plant. So, what happens after wastewater is treated?  It’s released into water bodies with medications still present.  Aquatic life is affected by these chemicals.  Synthetic estrogens, for example, are feminizing male fish.  When we draw our drinking water from these same water bodies, we’re ingesting a mix of people’s medications as well. 
Here are some tips for better disposal:                                                                                      
1.       Take your pharmaceuticals to a take-back event or a pharmaceutical drop box.  These have emerged all over the country and are the best way to dispose of your unwanted, unused, or expired medications.  If you don’t know where to find a drop box or take-back event, try contacting your local police department or pharmacy.  Superior residents, the Superior Police Department now has a drop box, open from 8:00 AM-4:30 PM Monday-Friday.  See here for more information.
2.       Follow instructions given on the original medication packaging.  Do not flush the medication unless the packaging specifically instructs you to do so.
3.       If you do not have access to a drop box or take-back event, you should dissolve pills in water.  You should mix liquids with an undesirable substance like kitty litter or coffee grounds.  After mixing them, the medications should go in an opaque, sealed container in the garbage in order to prevent diversion from your garbage.
For more information:
-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

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