Your spring cleaning is done. Or is it? Did you clean out your medicine cabinet? Before you flush old or unused medication, precautions need to be taken.

"There is increasing evidence of small amounts of contamination in water because not all the medications get removed by sewage treatment systems," revealed Dr. Steven Sheaffer, Associate Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. "There is a concern about what this means for human and wildlife consumption of the water."

It is also important to recognize the risk of disposing medication in the trash. "Someone might get into the trash, whether is be a child, pet, or wild animal, and may consume the medication, which could lead to poisoning," according to Sheaffer.

While completely preventing contamination is not realistic, there are a few steps you can take to reduce the dangers. The American Pharmacist Association (APhA) recommends:

  • Do not flush unused medications down the toilet.

  • It is also recommended against pouring unused medications down the drain.

  • Crush solid medications or dissolve in water (this applies for liquid medications as well), and mix with kitty litter or a solid kitchen substance such as coffee grounds, before placing in a sealed plastic bag to be tossed in the trash. This reduces the risk of poisoning for children and/or pets.

  • Remove and destroy all identifying personal information (prescription label) from the medication container.

  • Check for approved state and local collection programs or with area hazardous waste facilities. In certain states, you may be able to take your unused medications to community pharmacy sponsored days when you can return medications that need to be destroyed.

  • Talk to your pharmacist. Pharmacists are available to guide you on how to properly dispose of your unused medications.

"The ideal scenario is to take medications to a community hazardous waste collection location where those products can be incinerated," Sheaffer stated. "High intensity heat will fully destroy the medication; however it is not safe for the everyday consumers to perform." He hopes that in the future, funding or financial incentives will be provided to implement a medication disposal system.

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Until then, you can follow the APhA's simple steps for disposing your unused or old prescription medication.

University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Newswise