1. Health

Why It's Important to Dispose of Drugs Safely and Properly

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Updated October 17, 2012

• Your neighbor has been taking birth control pills (or antibiotics, or mood enhancers, hormone replacements, or other drugs) for years, but never took them all. So she flushed her leftovers down the toilet, and now they are part of your community's water supply. You've been drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing in them every day.

• An elderly neighbor takes many medications. When she isn't looking, the teenage boy next door who does odd jobs and runs errands for her pockets some of those drugs, then sells them at school or takes them himself to get high.

• An older gentleman has developed problems with his sight, and can no longer read well. He has trouble distinguishing among the many medicine and pill bottles in his bathroom, and suffers additional medical problems because he takes the wrong drug, or an expired drug.

Those are just three of the reasons why its important to carefully and regularly dispose of any drugs; prescription, over-the-counter, "natural" supplements including vitamins, veterinary drugs, or even illegal drugs including narcotics using the right methods.

More specifically:

Drugs in the Environment

When any substance, including a drug, is flushed down the toilet, it becomes a part of the water supply either through a leeching process (for those with septic systems) or back through waste water treatment (for those who have a community sewer system.) While treatment systems are designed to remove foreign substances from the water before putting it back into the public water supply, they do not process water to remove drugs, and any waste water that results from treatment is returned to the environment. That includes drugs that have been flushed, plus the residual from drugs that have passed through patients, then evacuated (urine or feces.)

The environment suffers. The substances become a part of both water and soil. Plants, fish and other animals that drink or swim in lakes, streams and oceans have been found through testing to contain drugs developed for human beings. Genetic alterations in plants, fish and animals have been observed and reported.

Proper disposal of drugs can prevent the negative and toxic effects on our environment that can take place if the drugs are not disposed of correctly.

Drugs in the Water Supply

Since our drinking and household water comes from the environment, our water supply is affected, too, no matter whether you get your water from a public supply or from a well. Studies of drinking water supplies in the United States have reported traces of pharmaceutical drugs in every metropolitan area's water sources.

The flushing of drug by-products, as they exit the body, can't be stopped. But properly throwing them away when they are no longer needed can, at least, prevent the original drugs from leeching into the eco-system.

Drugs Get Into the Wrong Hands

Drug abuse is a well-recognized and rampant problem. When drugs are not disposed of correctly, they can easily fall into the wrong hands, whether it's a teenager who steals them for his own use, a young, curious child who puts everything in her mouth, or a trash picker combing through a dumpster.

When drugs are prepared properly for disposal, they can't be identified easily. That lack of easy identification can keep the wrong person from ingesting them.

Taking the Wrong Drugs or Expired Drugs

When drugs go out-of-date, or aren't well labeled, it is easy for someone who is sick or confused, or simply can't see well, to swallow the wrong ones. One way to prevent problems for these patients is to dispose of drugs as they expire or as they are no longer required. (Then carefully label the right ones with larger or more colorful words to help the patient take the right ones.)

You can see, then, why it's so important to dispose of drugs properly, to prevent these problems, both in the long- and short-term.

Learn the proper disposal techniques for drugs to prevent them from leeching into the eco-system, or from getting into the wrong hands.

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