Rinsing, flushing and tossing have become common methods for the disposal of pharmaceutical medications such as pain relievers with the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality ringing true. People are often unaware of the adverse effects improper disposal of medication leads to.

With more pharmaceuticals available than ever before, traces of pharmaceuticals are being found in our soil and water resulting in a need for pharmaceutical stewardship. Although these concentrations tend to be low, they can have detrimental effects on the environment as well as human health.1

There is a fair bit of confusion regarding proper disposal practices, as many countries do not have standardized protocols. Unfriendly methods around the world typically include flushing down drains and tossing into household garbage. However, there are several disposal methods one can follow to ensure minimal impact on the environment.

The most preferable method is a medicine take-back program. Often pharmacies will offer this service, which is designated for patients to bring in expired, unwanted or unused medicines. This greatly reduces the chance of others consuming the medicine and spares the environment unnecessary contamination.

If your region does not offer such services you can take the following precautions to minimize environmental impact:

  1. Mix the medication with an unpalatable substance such as coffee grinds or kitty litter.
  2. Place the mixture in a plastic bag that you are able to seal and then toss the bag in your household trash2.

These are easy and simple methods patients can follow for prescribed pharmaceuticals as well as over-the-counter medications. For more information on programs in your region, visit or contact your local pharmacist.

1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412010002011
2. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm101653.htm