On July 8, 2014, the Louisville Courier-Journal ran a front-page article about how hard it is to find a drug disposal drop-off in Louisville. No mention was made of trashing the leftover meds. Here is the letter to the editor I sent in response on July 10, 2014.
Drug abuse is epidemic. So no one should trash talk about Martha Elson’s excellent article, Drug Disposal Boosted by Boxes. But the trash is exactly where leftover abusable drugs can go. Ms. Elson exposed the number one suppliers of abused pills, and surprisingly, it’s not the doctors. It’s you and me. In fact, about two-thirds of all abused pills come from family and friends, often right out of unlocked medicine cabinets. As a specialist in Pain Medicine and Addiction, I require my patients to lock up their medications and properly dispose of any leftovers. But with so few drug drop-off boxes available, what’s a responsible person to do?
Yes, if you can’t get to a drop-off box, the FDA says it is acceptable to throw your old medications in the trash, provided you first “doctor them up” a bit. Simply mix the pills with kitty litter or coffee grounds. Seal it in a leak-proof bag (like a zip-lock) and toss it in the garbage. Easy.
The more potent the drug is, the greater the need for disposal of the unused leftovers. The FDA has even determined that the danger from keeping unused powerful narcotics is so ominous, that flushing leftovers down the toilet is acceptable when a drop-off box is unavailable.
The Environmental Protection Agency is OK with this policy. And the FDA says there has been no indication of adverse environmental effects due to flushing leftover pills.
However, leftover pills do contribute to adverse societal effects. About one-fourth of high school age youth have abused prescription drugs. Approximately three Americans die every hour of every day from a drug overdose. More Kentuckians die from overdose than die in automobile accidents. A very large percentage of these overdose deaths involve prescription drugs.
Ms. Elson’s timely article brought to light the progress we are making. More and more drug drop-offs are becoming available. We should take advantage of them when we can. But please do not let your busy schedule, your concern for the environment, or your unfamiliarity with regulations deter you from properly disposing your unused medications. We are battling a drug abuse epidemic. People are dying. Make sure you are not an unwitting supplier. You may save the life of someone you love… And that’s not talking trash.