Healthy Habits

Protect Your Community

Content provided by the Health & Wellness Team at GBS Benefits

A community is made up of people who share common grounds like government, geographic location, culture, or heritage. In one way or another, we all live in a community, whether a small, rural neighborhood or large urban city. When we contribute to our community in a positive way, we help improve the lives of others. We also help to improve the conditions of our environment for future generations to live and thrive.

There are numerous ways in which to contribute to your community, both big and small. Opportunities abound, including knowing how to safely dispose of pharmaceuticals. Prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and even the dog’s expired flea medication should be regarded as dangerous and toxic to others and to the environment. Special populations at greater risk for accidental drug exposure include pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people who have kidney or liver diseases. Medications that are casually tossed in the trash may end up in the hands of a curious child or pet. Ground water, streams, and rivers are also vulnerable to contamination, including our drinking water reserves. As you can imagine, our entire planet is potentially being exposed to a variety of drugs and prescriptions.

Let’s look at a couple of ways to safely get rid of those expired and unused medications.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides guidelines for proper drug disposal. The best option is to find the nearest “Drug Take Back Location.” Ask at the local pharmacy, doctor’s office, or hospital if they participate. Police departments often have a drop-off box available as well.

Many communities also participate in the National Drug Take Back Day, hosted by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), typically held on the last Saturday of April and October. Watch for public service announcements in your neighborhood. Elderly and home-bound neighbors may appreciate it if you could bring along their old medications for disposal as well.

If you cannot dispose of medications through a take back program, most medications can be thrown in the household trash, EXCEPT those found on the FDA Flush List (see below). Steps to properly dispose of medications in the household trash:

  • Mix tablets, capsules, liquids, patches, drops, ointments, and creams with an undesirable substance, such as coffee grounds, cat litter, or dirt.
  • Place mixture in a sealable container such as a zip-lock bag, empty can, etc. to avoid having the contents leak out.
  • Throw the container in the trash.
  • Scratch out all personal information on the old prescription bottle or packaging to protect your identity and throw in the trash.

The FDA has published a list of drugs that you may flush down the sink or toilet in the event you cannot access other means, especially if certain medications are sought-after for their misuse or abuse potential, e.g. opioids. You may wonder why since this method may lead to water contamination. Here is an excerpt from the FDA webpage: “FDA believes that the known risk of harm, including toxicity and death, to humans from accidental exposure to medicines on the flush list far outweighs any potential risk to human health and the environment from flushing these unused or expired medicines. Remember only flush medicines on the flush list if a take-back option is not readily available. FDA will continue to conduct risk assessments as a part of our larger activities related to the safe use and disposal of medicines.” You may read the full article and access the FDA’s Flush List here:

You may also discuss with your prescriber about writing prescriptions for a smaller quantity with refills if needed. If you are starting on a new medication, you may want a smaller amount to see if you have any side effects or have an allergic reaction. If you don’t know how you will react to a new medication at first, consider filling a 30-day supply instead of a 90-day supply. If you do need to discontinue, that’s much less to have to dispose of.

We all want a safe, healthy, and thriving community. When we take small steps together, it’s a big win for us all.

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