My last column discussed the meaning of expiration dates on our medicine. Once we've determined that a medicine is no longer effective, safe, or needed, what is the proper way to dispose of it?The federal government has an official policy to address how to dispose of old prescription medications. First, follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanied it. Second, take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow us to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. The Downey Patriot recently announced just such a program, and over 400 pounds of medicine were turned in to the Downey Police Department. These drugs then went to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency for disposal. Check out www.takebacknetwork.com or www.calrecycle.ca.gov for more information. If no instructions are given on the drug label and it is not possible to use a local take-back program, use one of these methods: *Remove the pills from their original container, crush or dissolve them, and mix them with something undesirable, like used coffee grounds, kitty litter, sawdust, or dirt. Put this mixture into a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the contents from leaking or the bag breaking. *Leave the medicine in its original container, scratch out any personal information on the label, tape the bottle with duct tape, place in another container, and throw away. *A third method for disposal of unwanted medications, which I include here with great reluctance, is to flush them down the toilet or send them through the garbage disposal. This method is reserved specifically for powerful narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances such as anxiety medications with a high potential for abuse, including vicodin, codeine, percocet, morphine, ativan, xanax, and valium. Note that when a medicine enters our sewage system through your toilet or sink, it follows a path through sewage pipes and into the ocean, rivers, lakes, surface water, and even our drinking water. Sewage treatment plants may not be able to fully remove the substances, and it is shocking to realize that there can be residues of antibiotics, antidepressants, anabolic steroids, and anxiety medications in our drinking water. Is this harmful to our health? This may not sound very reassuring, but...studies are underway. Are you aware that more Americans abuse prescription drugs than illegal drugs? Most abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends or are stolen from home supplies. Let's keep on-hand only those medicines that we need, and properly dispose of the rest. Your pharmacist or physician can further guide you on the disposal of any specific medication. Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: July 11, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 13