Drugs In Our Drinking Water? How To Dispose of Your Medications Safely

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Some useful guidelines from the Johns Hopkins White Paper 2008: Prescription Drugs on how to dispose of your unwanted medications safely to minimize the impact on humans and wildlife.

The Johns Hopkins White Paper 2008: Prescription Drugs recently published a summary of the Office of National Drug Control Policy literature on the subject of how to dispose of your medications safely.

According to a recent Associated Press investigation, prescription drugs have been found in drinking water across the U.S. They found a vast array of pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones in the drinking water of 41 million Americans.

Though the level of concentration has been said to be very small, at this point it is unclear as to what the effects of continuous exposure to these drugs in these combinations could mean for humans and wildlife.

In light of these findings, the Johns Hopkins Prescription Drug White Paper summary should prove of some use in answering Americans' concerns about how to dispose of unwanted medications safely.

The original summary states:

How To Dispose of Your Medications
If you've ever wondered what to do with leftover or expired prescription medications, the federal government recently released some important advice. Here are the three options:

1. Throw in the trash.
To do this, remove pills from their original containers. If you are worried about illegal reuse, mix the pills with coffee grounds or kitty litter and place in an empty can or sealable bag.

2. Flush down the toilet.
Do this only if the drug label says so. Drugs that should be flushed down the toilet rather than thrown in the trash include narcotic pain medications, such as fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic Transdermal System, Fentora), oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), meperidine, and morphine (Avinza); the narcolepsy drug sodium oxybate (Xyrem); the hepatitis drug entecavir (Baraclude); the attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder drug methylphenidate (Daytrana Transdermal Patch); and the HIV drugs atazanavir (Reyataz) and stavudine (Zerit).

3. Utilize take-back programs.
If you are concerned about the environmental effects of flushing medications down the toilet or throwing them in the trash, take advantage of take-back programs, which allow you to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Ask your local pharmacy or municipal waste collection system if they have such a program.
Source: THE OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY, February 2007

But in view of the recent AP investigation findings, the Office of National Drug Control Policy might want to consider revising their recommendations with regard to Option 2.

In the meantime, Americans can all do their share for the environment by choosing Options 1 or 3.

We might also like to consider applying the same vigilance in disposing of any over the counter medications we might have on hand the next time we decide to clean out our bathroom cabinet.

For more Health Alerts on Prescription Drugs and how to take them safely, please visit:
Prescription Drugs Health Alerts

For a review of the latest research on prescription drugs, please visit The Johns Hopkins White Paper 2008: Prescription Drugs:
Prescription Drugs White Paper

"How To Dispose of Your Medications" excerpted from The Johns Hopkins Prescription Drugs White Paper, page 41. C 2008

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JOAN MULLALLY
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