The recent news that medicines are detectable in our water supply is a good reminder to properly dispose of your medications. While the issue is partly one of medicine being excreted into wastewater, improper disposal of drugs down the toilet is responsible, too, says Kasey Thompson, director of patient safety at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
This isn't the first time that experts have noted the potential for medicines to reach our water supply. The Harvard Heart Letter reported in 2006 that "scientists are finding everything from aspirin to Zoloft in our streams, rivers, and lakes." Flushing medications is a bad idea, the newsletter advises, because "drugs can kill helpful bacteria in septic systems and pass largely untouched through sewage treatment plants." Public-health experts also worry about throwing the medicines in the trash without taking proper precautions, since the drugs may end up in the hands of children, pets, or even people who grab the medicines from the trash in order to abuse them.
At least one state, Florida, has taken notice of the latest water supply news and this week issued a renewed call for proper drug disposal. Here are some tips for doing your part to keep the water supply safe—and limiting prescription drug abuse while you're at it.
- Take medications out of their original containers, mix them with a substance like used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in an impermeable container such as an empty can or sealable bag, advises the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection also suggests adding water or soda to pills to start dissolving them.
- Flush drugs down the toilet only if the label says it's OK to do so.
- Do not put old medications in the recycling bin.
- Find out if a drug buyback program exists in your area. Such programs allow people to turn in unused medication for disposal.