Three-quarters of unused medicines are just tossed or flushed

toilet seats

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Do you have partly-empty containers of unused or expired drugs in your medicine cabinet?  When you do your next tidy-up of this cabinet, what are you going to with these old drugs?  If you’re like most people, you flush them down the toilet so that you won’t have toxic medications lying around the house posing a danger to pets or children. Some estimates suggest that up to three-quarters of all drugs eventually get tossed this way.

Bad idea

Scientists have actually found measurable levels of antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, sedatives and sex hormones in our drinking water because of improperly discarded drugs dumped down the drain.

Although public utilities insist that our water is safe, the presence of so many prescription drugs – as well as over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in our drinking water is heightening worries among some about longterm consequences to human health. Results of pharmaceutical screenings are rarely released, according to a report from Associated Press. For example, the head of one California water utility insisted that the public “doesn’t know how to interpret the information” and might be unduly alarmed.

It’s a  serious concern for the environment and for each of us. Here are Health Canada’s guidelines to dispose safely and responsibly of any unused drugs:

  • Take medications as directed by your doctor or pharmacist. Don’t stop taking a drug part way through the course of treatment, unless you are having a serious adverse reaction, without first discussing it with your doctor. Even if you feel better, use up the entire prescription as directed to make sure that all the germs are destroyed.
  • Do not put out-of-date or unused medication in the garbage or down the toilet or sink.
  • Check to see if your pharmacy has a drug recycling program that disposes of unused or expired drugs in an environmentally safe manner.
  • If your area does not have such a program, see if your municipality incinerates drugs. If so, take your unused drugs to your municipality’s waste disposal depot.
  • At least once a year, go through your medicine cabinet and remove prescription drugs that are old or that you no longer take. Check the expiry dates on non-prescription drugs too, and remove those that are outdated as well. Take them all back to your pharmacy or to your municipal waste disposal depot.
  • If you don’t know if a drug is still good, check with your pharmacist.

Find out more from Health Canada.


2 thoughts on “Three-quarters of unused medicines are just tossed or flushed

  1. I just love your article about unused meds! It’s just great. I work in a lab at the University of Victoria and a lot of our research deals with the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (ibuprofen, the birth control pill) and how their disposal effects wildlife (definitely in the same vein as your article). This topic is so relevant these days and I’m so glad that you’re writing about it.


Your opinion matters. What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s