Campaign Seeks to Reduce Improper Drug Disposal

On March 20, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) announced they will work cooperatively to build consumer awareness of the hazards posed by the improper disposal of unused and expired medications.

As part of the effort -- dubbed "SMARxT DISPOSAL" -- the USFWS and the APhA plan to publicize the potential environmental and health impacts of medications when they are flushed into the nation's sewer systems.

"Medications that are flushed down the toilet or thrown straight into the garbage can and do find their way into our nation's waterways every day. Those drugs are present in water that supports many species of fish and other wildlife," said H. Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We are concerned about reports of fish abnormalities possibly caused by improperly disposed prescription medications. That's why we are excited about this new partnership with the association and its ability to educate the public about simple things they can do to clean up our waters and help prevent fish and people from inadvertent exposure to prescription medication."

This new initiative was unveiled at APhA's annual meeting in Atlanta, Ga., one of the largest gatherings of pharmacy professionals and health services providers in the country.

"Medications play a vital role in our society," said Dr. John A. Gans, executive vice president and CEO of APhA. "Consumers and pharmacists should be aware that it is important to take that extra step to protect our families and our natural resources, including our many waterways, fish and other aquatic organisms."

The consumer-outreach campaign will feature educational brochures and a Web site with information for both consumers and medical professionals. There also will be promotional events held in several cities across the country designed to generate greater awareness of the importance of proper medication disposal. The initiative will begin with a pilot program in selected U.S. markets later this year and expanded in 2008.

According to APhA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, three small steps can make a huge difference:

  1. Do not flush unused medications. Consumers were once advised to flush their expired or unused medications. However, recent environmental impact studies report that this could be having an adverse impact on the environment. While the rule of thumb is not to flush, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that certain medications should be flushed due to their abuse potential. Read the instructions on your medication and talk to your pharmacist.
  2. When tossing unused medications, protect children and pets from the potentially negative effects. APhA recommends that consumers:
    • Crush solid medications or dissolve them in water (this applies for liquid medications as well) and mix with kitty litter or sawdust (or any material that absorbs the dissolved medication and makes it less appealing for pets or children to eat), then place in a sealed plastic bag before tossing in the trash.
    • Remove and destroy all identifying personal information (prescription label) from the medication container.
    • Check for approved state and local collection programs or with area hazardous waste facilities. In certain states, you may be able to take your unused medications to your community pharmacy.
  3. Talk to your pharmacist. As the medication experts on the healthcare team, pharmacists are available to guide you on how to properly dispose of your unused medications.

Following these simple steps can help protect your family and community, minimize a potential negative impact on the environment, and prevent the illegal diversion of unused medications, officials said.

For more information, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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