Currently there are few safe and convenient ways for consumers to dispose of unused prescription drugs. Twenty to sixty percent of prescription medications go unused and are eventually disposed. Nearly all unused prescription and non-prescription over-the-counter pharmaceuticals enter either our solid waste system or our sewage system. Neither disposal method is environmentally sound. Pharmaceuticals flushed down the toilet pass through our sewage treatment plants, which are generally not designed to screen for these chemicals. Pharmaceuticals discarded in landfills can seep into the surrounding water table. Several studies, including a 2002 analysis by the US Geological Survey of 139 streams across 30 states found that 80 percent of waterways tested had measurable concentrations of prescription and nonprescription drugs, steroids, and reproductive hormones.
It is important to remember that many of these substances are biologically active. Simply put that means the ingredients can cause problems in humans and animals.
Abuse and Overdoses
“The abuse of prescription drugs is our nation’s fastest-growing drug problem,” said Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske. Because prescription drugs are legal, they are easily accessible, often from a home medicine cabinet. Further, some individuals who misuse prescription drugs, particularly teens, believe these substances are safer than illicit drugs because they are prescribed by a healthcare professional and sold behind the counter. Keep all medications that may be at risk for misuse locked up, even if expired or not in use.
A federal study released in June of 2010, found that ER visits for misused prescription and over-the-counter drugs are now as common as visits for the use of illegal drugs. In 2008, the misuse of pain relievers — including oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone — led to about 305,000 ER visits, more than double the number in 2004. And this new study shows it is a problem that affects men and women, people under 21, and those over 21.
A drug overdose is the accidental or intentional use of a drug or medicine in an amount that is higher than normally used. All drugs have the potential to be misused, whether legally prescribed by a doctor, purchased over the counter at the local drug store, or bought illegally on the street. Taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol, even drugs normally considered safe can cause death or serious long-term consequences.
Children are particularly at risk for accidental overdose and account for over 1 million poisonings each year. People who suffer from depression and who have suicidal thoughts are also at high risk for drug overdose. Accidental overdose may even result from misuse of prescription medicines or commonly used medications like pain relievers and cold remedies.
Unwanted medicine disposed in the trash can be stolen and used, potentially resulting in death or illness.