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Patients aren’t properly disposing of unused pain medication after surgery, according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins researchers. Patient education is essential, as leftover pills can pose safety threats to both individuals and the environment.
“Medications not disposed of in a proper manner can negatively impact the environment and all of us living in it,” says Jen Woodward, PharmD, pharmacy manager at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “Pharmaceuticals and chemical remnants from landfills can make their way to groundwater and drinking water.”
Do you know where to dispose of leftover pain medications?
“Proper disposal of medications helps keep the products from being accessed by those who shouldn’t – for example, a toddler visiting a family member’s home, a pet or child getting into a trash can or a person with addiction gaining access to substances,” says Woodward.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are a few ways you can get rid of unneeded or expired medication:
- Collection sites: This is the safest and most effective option. Periodically, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and local police departments set up sites around the community for safe prescription take-back days. Specific dates and times can be found on the DEA website. Sites with ongoing collection can be found here.
- Dispose in household trash: If there aren’t any take-back days available near you, the FDA recommends disposing of leftover pills in your household trash. The trick is to mix medicine in with unpalatable substances such as dirt or coffee grounds. After mixing the materials, place them in a sealed container and discard into the trash bin. Remember to scratch out your personal information from the prescription pill bottle.
- Flush down the toilet: As a last resort, some especially dangerous prescription medications are to be flushed down the toilet after use. Check the label of your prescription bottle or ask your doctor or pharmacist for guidance.
In addition to these tips, the FDA recommends keeping prescription bottles tightly sealed and stored out of reach in a locked cabinet to prevent the accidental or intentional misuse of prescription medication.
About the Author
Lauryn Oleson is a public affairs intern at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. She studies public relations with a focus in psychology at Illinois State University. As a Bloomington native, Lauryn grew to love health and wellness by learning from her mom, Carolyn, who is a registered nurse at BroMenn. Lauryn enjoys playing sports, spending time with friends and volunteering for Young Hearts for Life. She hopes to continue her career in PR and health care in the future.