|Canada has become the world’s second-largest consumer of prescription opioids per capita, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. As Canadians increasingly consume more medications, including prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, it is becoming more and more important to dispose of them properly. Tossing unwanted drugs in the trash or flushing them down the toilet can be potentially harmful, leading to accidental poisoning of children and pets, misuse by unintended recipients and water contamination.As you are likely aware, prescription drug abuse continues to be a growing problem in Canada. In fact, a Youth Smoking Survey found that 6.7 percent of youth in grades 7-12 have used prescription drugs to get high. And in Ontario alone, opioid-related deaths have doubled over 10 years. What’s more, research is revealing traces of pharmaceuticals in our water supply. Canadian studies are still catching up, but an investigation south of the border into the U.S. water supply found that 41 million Americans had trace amounts of drugs in their drinking water. And 80 percent of sampled rivers and streams contained low levels of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives and steroids.This serious problem isn’t a new one, but as the use of medications in Canada continues to rise, so will the harmful effects that come with their improper disposal. Many healthcare facilities are taking measures to educate patients on safe disposal practices. If you aren’t already doing so, or are looking for more ideas, keep reading for some helpful tips you can share with your patients.How to properly dispose of medications|
- Prescription drug return initiatives: Law enforcement, public health officials and environmental experts agree that drug-return programs are the safest and most responsible way to dispose of unwanted or expired medications.Many jurisdictions across the country host events where drugs are accepted for disposal, such as the Niagara Region Drug Drop Day. Promote drug return initiatives in your area by circulating flyers and banners printed with the days, times and locations. Giveaways, such as a Collapsible Cup or a med minder, are a long-lasting, tangible reminder of the importance of proper disposal. Imprint them with the message “Protect our families and the environment. Return your unused medications.”
Some local law enforcement agencies house permanent drug drop boxes where residents can safely dispose of expired and unused medications at any time, such as the Medi Drop program in Cornwall. Let your patients know where they can safely drop their unwanted medications. Have a basket of pill boxes and Syringe Pens available with the message “Safe Rx Disposal = Safer Communities,” and imprint your local drug drop-box site locations on them.
- At-home disposal: If drug take-back programs are not available in your area, teach your patients how to safely dispose of medications at home. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers the following guidelines: First, remove the medication from its original packaging and mix with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or cat litter, to make the drug unrecognizable to those seeking drugs or unappealing to pets or children. Then, seal the mixture in a plastic bag or container and throw in the trash. Be sure to remind patients to protect their personal health information by removing and destroying prescription drug labels before discarding. Print these steps on a reusable tote or grab bag that can be distributed with prescription samples and literature promoting safe and responsible disposal.
- Follow instructions: A few powerful medications have specific disposal instructions right on the packaging. The FDA recommends certain expired, unwanted or unused medications be flushed down the toilet or sink immediately to prevent accidental ingestion by children or pets. View a complete list of these medications on the FDA’s flushing list.
Remember, keeping medications out of the hands of unintended users, out of reach of our children and pets, and out of our water supply is easy, if we follow safe disposal practices. We hope you’ve picked up a tip or two you can share with your patients.
“Prescription Drug Misuse.” Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. N.p. N.d. Web. Retrieved 28 Feb. 2014.
“DEA Event.” — Take Back Your Meds. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 08 Feb. 2014.
“How to Dispose of Unused Medicines.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 08 Feb. 2014.