Federal Government Issues Guidelines on Disposal of Prescription Drugs

On Feb. 20, the federal government issued new guidelines for the proper disposal of unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and EPA jointly released the new guidelines, which are designed to reduce the diversion of prescription drugs, while also protecting the environment.

The new federal prescription drug disposal guidelines urge Americans to:

  • Take unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers.
  • Mix the prescription drugs with an undesirable substance, like used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in impermeable, non-descript containers, such as empty cans or sealable bags, further ensuring that the drugs are not diverted or accidentally ingested by children or pets.
  • Throw these containers in the trash
  • Flush prescription drugs down the toilet only if the accompanying patient information specifically instructs it is safe to do so.
  • Return unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs to pharmaceutical take-back locations that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for safe disposal.

Abuse of prescription drugs to get high has become increasingly prevalent among teens and young adults. Past year abuse of prescription pain killers abuse now ranks second -- only behind marijuana -- as the nation's most prevalent illegal drug problem. While overall youth drug use is down by 23 percent since 2001, approximately 6.4 million Americans report non-medical use of prescription drugs. New abusers of prescription drugs have caught up with the number of new users of marijuana. Much of this abuse appears to be fueled by the relative ease of access to prescription drugs. Approximately 60 percent of people who abuse prescription pain killers indicate that they got their prescription drugs from a friend or relative for free.

While EPA continues to research the effects of pharmaceuticals in water sources, one thing is clear: improper drug disposal is a prescription for environmental and societal concern," said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "Following these new guidelines will protect our nation's waterways and keep pharmaceuticals out of the hands of potential abusers."

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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