Pharmaceutical Waste - Community

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Pharmaceutical waste in the community consists of unused drugs, both prescription and over the counter. Unused drugs spring from a variety of sources including expired medications, medications one can no longer take due to an adverse reaction or allergy, medication samples, medications no longer needed, medications contaminated, physician-ordered drug change or discontinuation. Unused medications in homes can result in pediatric accidental overdoses, mentally challenged and/or elderly adult accidental medication ingestion, adolescents using the medication for illicit purposes, illegal sale of the medication and possible theft of the medication. When unused medications are disposed of by flushing them down the drain or toilet, they can enter the water table. Medication waste in the water system affects aquatic life, water purity and possibly human health. Appropriate unused medication disposal is needed. Currently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends taking unused medications to a community drug take-back event or program. If your community does not offer such an event or program, the FDA recommends the following for proper medication disposal:
  • Do not flush the medication down the drain or toilet unless the medication labeling or accompanying medication information specifically instructs this action
  • Take the unused medication out of its original container and put it in a resealable plastic baggy
  • Add kitty litter, used coffee grounds or similar substance into the baggy to render the medication unrecognizable and not fit for re-use
  • Seal and dispose of the baggy into a secure trash container.
More specific recommendations from the FDA can be found in the resource section below.