Proper disposal of medication

Stories of prescription drugs making it into our drinking water have been around for the past few years.

Various studies have found small quantities of a variety of commonly used prescription drugs including pain killers, birth control medication, antidepressants, cholesterol lowering drugs and other medicines showing up in water samples.

Much of the medicine arrives in the water in human waste after the drugs have been taken but not completely absorbed by the body – and some makes it into the water when people flush unused medicines.

We know these medications are having an environmental impact and can harm fish and other elements of the aquatic ecosystem.

Concentrations are extremely low and much lower than what would be considered therapeutic doses for humans, but there are so many different medications with different effects and possible interactions that it is unknown at this point whether they could ever cause problems for people drinking the water. More research into their effects is still ongoing.

With all of this in mind, it behoves us to learn how to properly dispose of unused medications to ensure they stop ending up in our waterways and taps.

Health Canada is planning new guidelines for safe disposal of prescription drugs and other health products both human and veterinary. Research will determine the safest methods of drug disposal and create regulations for consumers, manufacturers, farmers and others.

Scientists and municipal water authorities are also looking into new ways to filter water to get rid of these chemicals.

All of us can take a few simple steps to help minimize this problem.

A good way to help reduce the amount of medicines you have to discard is to be sure not to purchase more than you need. Sometimes people buy more medication than immediately necessary because they hope to save on dispensing fees at the pharmacy in case they need to refill.

Unfortunately, this often results in leftover medication if the condition is successfully treated or the original prescription is changed or discontinued for some reason. It is best to simply buy what you need.

That being said, if you do have unused medication in your home, it is safest to dispose of it rather than keep it sitting indefinitely in the medicine cabinet.

Medicines do have a shelf life and an expiry date after which they should not be taken. Leftover medication could also be used inappropriately by other people in the household including children and it can be a risk for suicide in those prone to depression.

So – when you do have unnecessary medication at your house, how can you dispose of it safely to ensure it stays out of our water supply and landfills? Firstly, don’t flush your unused medicine. All doctors’ offices and pharmacies have a dangerous goods service that comes to pick up unused medication as well as hypodermic needles and other things that should not go into the landfills.

Many of these places will accept your unused medication. For a list of participating pharmacies near you, check out the Post Consumer Pharmaceutical Stewardship Association website at www.medicationsreturn.ca.

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About the Author

Paul Latimer has over 25 years experience in clinical practice, research, and administration.

After obtaining his medical degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, he did psychiatric training at Queen's, Oxford and Temple Universities. After his residency he did a doctorate in medical science at McMaster University where he was also a Medical Research Council of Canada Scholar.

Since 1983 he has been practicing psychiatry in Kelowna, BC, where he has held many administrative positions and conducted numerous clinical trials.

He has published many scientific papers and one book on the psychophysiology of the functional bowel disorders.

He is an avid photographer, skier and outdoorsman.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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