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Proper Disposal of Unwanted Medicine

Unwanted or expired medication should not be flushed or poured down a drain. Katie Altman, ©2020, Clemson Extension

Unwanted or expired medication should not be flushed or poured down a drain.
Katie Altman, ©2020, Clemson Extension

You can help keep your family and our waterways safe by properly disposing of unwanted or expired medications. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the proper disposal of medications can prevent:

  • accidental poisoning of children and pets
  • misuse by teens or adults
  • health risks caused by taking the wrong medication, taking an incorrect dose, or taking medication that has expired and no longer works properly
  • presence of medications in streams and rivers

People often have disposed of prescription medications by flushing them down the toilet or pouring them down the drain to keep them out of the wrong hands. The EPA and South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control do not recommend disposing of medications down the drain. In houses with a septic system, prescription and over-the-counter drugs that are flushed can leach into the ground and end up in groundwater. Even homes connected to wastewater treatment plants should not flush medications. Wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to remove medicines, so they may end up in our water supply. This can lead to adverse effects on aquatic wildlife or unintended exposure to humans. A 2017 study in Congaree National Park found 49 pharmaceuticals in water samples taken from river and lake sites around the park1.

How should you dispose of unwanted medicine? Some law enforcement agencies offer free, drug take-back events, and some pharmacies offer a mail-back program for prescription and over-the-counter medications. Find local prescription disposal locations by visiting https://apps.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubdispsearch or check with your local law enforcement agency or pharmacy to see if they offer this service. If there are no drug take-back programs in your area and no disposal instructions on your prescription drug label, you can remove prescription medicine from its container and mix it with undesirable substances like kitty litter or coffee grounds. This step will help reduce the misuse of the substance. Then seal the mix in a bag or container and dispose of it in household waste.

To learn more about the proper disposal of unwanted medicines, visit:

www.epa.gov/hwgenerators/collecting-and-disposing-unwanted-medicines

Other links for more information:

toxics.usgs.gov/investigations/cec/index.php

https://www.usgs.gov/news/shedding-light-contaminants-congaree-national-park

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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