Put a Lid on Unneeded Prescription Medications

Eric Werttemberger

This article is written by Eric Werttemberger, Director of Pharmacy Services at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, located in Everett.

Looked in your medicine cabinet lately? You’ll probably find a mish-mash of personal care items: toothpaste, antibiotic ointment, shaving cream and dental floss. And usually mixed in are a few expired or no-longer-needed prescription medications.

It’s no surprise long-forgotten prescription meds might tumble from your cabinet. According to ABC News, as many as 40 percent of all prescription medicines sold aren’t used.

Unused Medications Become Unintentional Risk

While they help our bodies heal or relieve our pain, those medicines also are potentially harmful substances. If ingested by a youngster, an unsuspecting adult or even your pet, prescription drugs can cause an adverse or even fatal reaction.

Kids are most at risk: the Centers for Disease Control estimates more than 71,000 children 18 and younger are rushed to emergency rooms for unintentional prescription and over-the-counter drug overdoses.

The environment also is at danger of pharmaceutical pollution. Government researchers in the Pacific Northwest have found a variety of medicines – including antibiotics, painkillers, heart medications and antihistamines – in surface, ground and marine waters. In the US, 139 streams were sampled and 80 percent tested positive for pharmaceuticals. Medicine, even in microscopic amounts diluted into ground water, has been found to cause changes in fish behavior and reproduction. If your home uses a septic system, prescription drugs sent down the drain can leach into the ground water supply.

Safe Ways to Dispose of Unwanted Medications

The US Food and Drug Administration recommends you dispose of unneeded medications. Many police stations and pharmacies throughout Snohomish County take unused medications for safe disposal. Pharmacies can’t accept controlled substances (such as narcotic pain killers), which are tightly regulated by the government, so it’s best to take them to a participating law enforcement location. Remember to leave medications in their original containers with personal information crossed out.

These are a few Snohomish County police stations accept unused medications:

  • Everett Police – 3002 Wetmore Ave., Everett
  • Lynnwood Police – 19321 44th Ave. W, Lynnwood
  • Marysville Police – 1635 Grove St., Marysville
  • Mill Creek Police – 15728 Main St., Mill Creek
  • Monroe Police – 818 W Main St., Monroe

There are safe methods to dispose of medications at home – and they don’t include the toilet or sink drain. Meds, even in tiny amounts, can affect our drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency offers these guidelines to dispose of unneeded prescription or over-the-counter drugs:

  • Remove the drugs from their original containers and mix with soda or water and an undesirable substance such as coffee grounds or cat litter.
  • Pour the mixture into a disposable container with a lid. An empty margarine tub or sealable bag is ideal.
  • Remove or conceal personal information and Rx number from the empty containers.
  • Place the sealed container with the drug mixture – and empty drug containers – into the trash.

With that bit of medicine-cabinet housekeeping done, your home – and your community – can be a little safer. 

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