Advice for Disposing of Outdated Meds

Spring cleaning should extend to your medicine cabinet. But with a recent report finding pharmaceutical drugs in many water supplies, there's confusion over just how to dispose of old medications.

Stormont-Vail Pharmacy Director Kevin Waite says he understands the concerns. He says, even in small amounts, it's not known what the long-term affects are of being exposed to pharmaceuticals not intended for a person.

Most of the meds end up in the water supply when the body excretes what's not absorbed. But a small amount gets there when people flush old or expired meds down the toilet. Waite says that still may be safer than keeping them lying around the house.

Currently in Kansas, Waite says, under most circumstances, there is no sort of takeback program for unused medications. Because of that, he says, the recommendation is still to dispose of them through the municipal waste system.

Waite says it's a good idea to clean out your medicine cabinet once a year. He says once prescriptions are dispensed from a pharmacy, they are good for a year. He says over-the-counter medications generally have a shelf life of two years. A good rule of thumb is to check expiration dates, which should be on the package if not the bottle or tube itself. Past the expiration date, medications can lose their strength. Even worse, Waite says some may actually change chemically and become dangerous.

Waite says exceptions to the flushing recommendation should be made for hormones and anti-biotics. He says to store those as long as you can in a secure place. The antibiotics, he says, may interfere with some of the microbes used to purify water.

Waite says the best way to dispose of medications is incineration, often through a household hazardous waste program, but right now, that's not offered in Kansas.


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