Prescription disposal

Guidelines say keep drugs out of water, abusers' hands

February 23, 2007|By a Sun reporter

Don't toss unused or expired medicine into the trash or flush it down the toilet, the federal government warned consumers this week.

New guidelines for proper disposal of prescription drugs are intended to reduce the diversion of medicine for illegal use and protect the environment, said officials of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Abuse of prescription painkillers ranks second, behind misuse of marijuana, as the most prevalent U.S. drug problem, the office said. The trend has become increasingly apparent among teens and young adults, even though overall youth drug use has dropped by 23 percent since 2001.

The office makes clear that the majority of the misused pills and other medicines are not necessarily retrieved from supplies that were discarded casually. About 60 percent of people who abuse prescription drugs indicate that a friend or relative gave them the drugs for free, the office said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt urged health care providers, pharmacists and family to take precautions.

"In addition to supporting the new prescription drug disposal guidelines, they should address prescription drug misuse honestly and directly with their patients or loved ones when they suspect it."

The EPA is continuing to research the effects of pharmaceuticals on the U.S. water supply, and the head of the agency called improper drug disposal "a prescription for environmental and societal concern." EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson said the new directives will help "protect our nation's waterways and keep pharmaceuticals out of the hands of potential abusers."

The new guidelines, which are effective immediately, urge Americans to:

Take unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers.

Mix the prescription drugs with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in impermeable, nondescript containers, such as empty cans or sealable bags. That step will further ensure that the drugs are not diverted or accidentally ingested by children or pets.

Throw these containers in the trash.

Flush prescription drugs down the toilet only if the accompanying patient information specifically says it's safe to do so.

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.

For more information, go to whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/pda/022007.html.

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