Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 20, 2019

Earth Concerns News

Disposing of Unused Medications by Sister Mary Ellen Putnam, CSJ

As a member of the Home/Land Committee, I chose the topic, Disposing of Unused Medications, for my article in Carondelet East. I am amazed how much information is on the web about this topic, but little is being done on the local level. Where do I begin?

On February 20,2007, the federal government, including the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Dept of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency jointly issued the following guidelines for proper disposal of prescription drugs:
  • Take unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs out of their original container. Remove all personal identification from the bottle.
  • Mix the prescription drugs with an undesirable substance, like used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put the pills in impermeable non-descript containers such as an empty can or sealable bags.
  • Throw the can/bag in the trash.
  • Flush prescription drugs down the toilet only when the accompanying patient information specifically instructs that it is safe to do so
Unused prescription and over-the-counter medications can contaminate air or water when the meds are burned or flushed down the drain. When the medications are disposed of where they are accessible to children and pets, these medications can be ingested, causing severe health consequences or death. Some of the substances or combinations of substances can damage septic systems or waste-water-treatment facilities and harm fish and other wildlife when these substances enter water bodies. Current research is investigating the potential impacts to humans of trace amounts of combinations of pharmaceuticals in drinking water. There is also growing concern that antibiotics entering the environment in this way may contribute to the development of drug-resistant microorganisms.
Let us develop good habits for disposing of medications. Return unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs to pharmaceutical take-back locations that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for safe disposal. The laws governing the handling of prescription drugs are stringent. Take-back collection programs are legal only under the jurisdiction of law-enforcement agencies that have received approval from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEC).
I contacted the local pharmacies, CVS, Rite-Aid, Walmart and Walgreens, and spoke to Royal Care, the pharmacy for the Provincial House. Unfortunately, these pharmacies do not have a take-back program. However, the person with whom I spoke at CVS said they do accept empty medicine bottles for re-use.
Then, I contacted the Colonie Police Department, the Sheriff's Department and the landfill. Once again, I learned that there isn't a take-back program for unused medications. Since the federal government issued guidelines for the disposal of unused medications, why after two years haven't these guidelines been implemented?
Since this is only the tip of the iceberg, I invite anyone who is interested to join me in my search for answers. How can I bring this issue to public awareness and begin an effort to stop the pollution and contaminating our Mother Earth with unwanted medications?