With the drug epidemic being what it is in the United States, the proper disposal of unused medications has never been more important.
In the past, most people did not think twice about throwing unwanted, unused, or expired medications in the garbage, washing them down the sink, or flushing them down the toilet. However, in recent years, the risks of getting rid of prescription or over-the-counter medications in these ways have become evident.
The Washington Poison Center outlines a number of ways in which improper disposal of medications can cause significant damage, including the following:
- Damage to the environment – Flushing medications down the sink or toilet sends chemicals directly into water sources, not only potentially harming aquatic life, but also potentially harming humans and animals who consume that water.
- Accidental poisoning – By leaving unused or expired medications around the house, there becomes a risk of them being ingested unintentionally, resulting in poisoning. Children and pets are susceptible to this, as they are unaware of what consuming these medications can do.
- Making drugs accessible for abuse – The abuse of prescription medications is a widespread problem, and by not disposing of medications, or by improperly disposing of them, individuals may unknowingly be placing them in the hands of drug users. Whether it is a teenager within the home, or someone who is searching through garbage on the street, making these drugs accessible in any fashion can aid in feeding someone’s drug habit.
The greater Seattle area has, unfortunately, not been sheltered from the damage related to the improper disposal of prescription medications. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has reported that last year in Pierce County alone, “more than 1,500 children under the age of 6 came in contact with or were poisoned by unused or unsecured medicine [that was] left in the home.”
The Health Department also noted a report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that approximately 75 percent of individuals who are addicted to heroin developed their habit after first abusing opioid prescription painkillers.
For these reasons, it is important to know how to properly dispose of medications. And one of the easiest and safest ways to do so is by taking unused, unwanted, or expired medications to an identified drug drop-off location.
Steps are being taken on the legislative side to not only expand the number of drug drop-off locations available, but also to make the process easier for everyone to access. Not far from King County, the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health recently passed a regulation that will offer more locations for drop-boxes where medications can be disposed of, while also providing individuals with the option of disposing of their medications via mail at no cost.
The County Board of Health is not the only official organization that is taking steps to remedy this situation.
In an effort to keep medications out of the wrong hands, as well as to protect the environment, the Washington Poison Center will be launching a program called “Take Back Your Meds” in January of 2017. This medicine disposal program will be available to individuals in Tukwila, as well as to all residents of King County. Further information about this program, including where specific disposal sites are located and how to be notified when various locations open, can be found on the following website: http://www.takebackyourmeds.org/.