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Don't Flush Old Medications

I always thought it didn’t make sense to flush outdated pharmaceuticals down the toilet, but we’ve been told to do this for over 30 years.  We are now learning that this is an environmental taboo. 

According to Nancy Larson, Director of K-State’s Pollution Prevention Institute, “The U.S. Geological Survey has been detecting pharmaceuticals in streams for more than 30 years, but in the last 10 years they’ve been seeing genetic changes in wildlife.” 

Recommendations for handling old or unwanted medications (including both prescription and over-the-counter medications):

  1. Nursing homes and other health care providers can send excess or expired drugs back to the pharmacy for disposal.
  2. Private citizens whose cities offer a hazardous-waste disposal program should use that option.
  3. If no hazardous-waste program is available, mix unwanted medicines into a paste with coffee grounds or kitty litter, seal the result in a lidded container and place it with the rest of the household trash. (I’m assuming you would have to open the capsules to mix them into a paste with coffee grounds.  This doesn’t make much sense to me.  (I would avoid handling and simply place the packaged drugs in the trash for pick up).

More information about disposal is available here.

The United States Geological Service (USGS) has published a national fact sheet detailing these water contamination issues. Get it here.

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  1. Kristen Beck says:

    I’m so happy that you posted this.

    I flushed my old pills for years until I did a study on pollution in rivers and streams during my college years. It’s amazing how many fish end up with high blood levels of hormones and medications. I’m vegetarian, but my kids eat fish. I just hate the thought of those chemicals ending up in their bodies. Plus, I can’t help but feel sorry for the wildlife. Imagine the side effects they’re dealing with.

  2. Hi Kristen – you know what they say….great minds think a like. Interesting that you came to this conclusion from your college studies.

    We definitely need to do a better job of caring for the environment. Cheryl

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