Properly disposing of drugs is important for a number of reasons, including the safety of your loved ones and the well-being of the environment. Many prescription medications, over-the-counter products and health supplements remain in medicine cabinets and kitchen drawers long after their expiry date, while others are simply unused. At some point in time, they are thrown away in the garbage, flushed down the toilet, or—in the case of liquids—poured down the drain.
Prescription drug abuse
“Canada is the world’s second largest per capita consumer of prescription opioids, after the United States, and use increased 203 per cent between 2000 and 2010″ according to Global News. It also recently reported that nearly as many as 1 in 4 Canadians who use prescription drugs daily obtained them from friends or relatives.
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health cites ‘ease of access’ as one of the primary reasons for the rise in the popularity of prescription drug abuse in smaller communities, which also results in a spike in addiction, accidental overdoses, suicide and drug-related crime.
Medications disposed of in the garbage can pose a hazard to pets and wildlife, and these, as well as drugs flushed down sinks or toilets, can infiltrate groundwater, eventually entering drinking water and the food chain. Leachate, the rainwater that percolates through the landfill and collects at the bottom, has been shown to contain antidepressants, antibiotics, steroids, hormones, heart and asthma medications and painkillers. Leachate typically flows to a waste water treatment plant, but—unlike human waste that can be treated—pharmaceuticals cannot. This contaminated water negatively affects aquatic organisms, fish and other wildlife.
What can you do? Return unused or expired medications to London Drugs.
Saturday, May 10 is National Prescription Drug Drop-off Day, and London Drugs encourages Western Canadians to drop off their unused or expired prescription drugs to their local pharmacy.
London Drugs pharmacists have long recognized the importance of properly disposing of drugs, needles and other medicine-related supplies. We have initiated several programs to cut down on environmental waste through recycling of medication-related materials in a safe manner.
• Medication Returns Program: We accept expired or unused medications for safe disposal. These medications are safely incinerated, preventing them from entering landfills, sewers and the environment at large. We request that, whenever possible, you remove drugs from their packaging, and recycle the packaging appropriately, before bringing medications to the pharmacy for disposal.
• Recycling of vials, bottles and lids: If you are unable to recycle your lids, bottles and/or medication vials, or you prefer to return unused or expired medications in their original packaging, we will happily recycle them for you.
• Diabetic Needle Disposal Program: With the purchase of 100 BD syringes or pen needles, you will receive a certified biohazard needle disposal container free of charge. (If you are not buying needles, you may still purchase a container for a nominal charge.) Filled containers may be returned to a London Drugs pharmacy and we will dispose of the contents in a way that is safe for the public and the environment.
Clearing your medications
Most people’s medicine cabinets contain medications or health supplements that have expired or are not being used. These pose a hazard for a number of reasons. For example, expired medications may not be as effective, and family members may be tempted to try “spare” medications that have not been prescribed for them.
Ideally, medicine cabinets should be checked over once a year. When doing so, be sure to:
• Dispose of any medication that is 12 months old or older
• Remove any medication not in its original container
• Remove duplicates of OTC medications, where the older medication is rarely used.
Although it is common practice, storing medications in the bathroom is not a good idea since heat and humidity can degrade them over time. A better place to keep them is a hall cabinet or other place less likely to generate moisture and/or heat. (The kitchen is also not the ideal place.)
Unless specified that OTC medications need to be refrigerated, medications should be stored at room temperature—21-24 C—and out of the light. Remember that expiry dates presume the medication has been stored in ideal conditions.
Wherever you store your medications, be sure to lock them safely away from children and pets, or place them out of harm’s reach on a high shelf in the cupboard.