What Do I Do With All These Pills?
Reprinted from The Triangle, October 2010
Whether you live with AIDS, care for someone living with AIDS or enjoy better-than-average health, we all generate more medical waste than we think. Most of us don’t consider what we leave behind after a doctor or dental visit because these regulated professionals take care of it for us. But even if the medical waste we all create at home is not regulated, taking a few extra steps will help us protect our drinking water and the wildlife that call it home.
Take a Pill
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American takes more than 12 prescription drugs annually. That adds up to 19 million tons of active pharmaceutical ingre-dients being dumped each year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified more than 100 pharmaceuticals and personal-care products in the nation’s drinking water, including antibiotics, steroids, hormones and antidepressants.
Even if you don’t care about three-legged, gender-con-fused frogs, salamanders and fish, you might care about what you drink and bathe in. Our drinking water treatment plants are engineered to screen a lot of harmful elements, but prescription drugs are not on the list.
Medical waste is more than just pills, though. We also need to consider bloody bandages, used needles or other items soaked with body fluids. HIV positive or not, I’d just as soon avoid any other infectious diseases you may be suffering from and I’ll bet you don’t want mine, so here’s a quick primer on how to handle the medical waste we all create.
To Flush or Not to Flush – The New Pill Question
If you are confused, you are paying attention; proper prescription disposal has been a mov-ing target. “Flush everything!” was the old message, but the Food and Drug Administration now advises flushing some medica-tions, but not others. For a com-plete list, Google “FDA + drugs to flush.” In brief, painkillers tops the list of flushables for the simple reason that they can be dangerous, provide others’ temp-tation to go through your garbage and because – without the Drug Enforcement Administration get-ting involved – your pharmacist can’t take them back. Ideally, all consumers would have access to a take back program for ALL pharmaceuticals, but the controlled substances are the sticking point. The Safe Drug Disposal Act, which is still being considered in D.C., is designed to encourage state take-back programs. The bill would permit caregivers to turn over regulated drugs for disposal at DEA-approved, government-run sites.
Until that happy day arrives, here’s how to trash pills that should not be flushed. First, protect your privacy! Scratch off or strike out any personal data on the containers and toss them in the trash. Next, dump the pills into a sealable baggie, can or jar and mix them coffee grounds, kitty litter or whatever substance you think would hide the con-tents. If you used a baggie, toss it another baggie and seal before you toss. If you use a can or jar, go ahead and toss it in the trash. It’s that easy.
Other Medical Waste
Pretty much anything with excess body fluids qualifies for special disposal, including used needles. Put bandages, gauze, gloves, tub-ing and whatever else gets soiled into a baggie that seals and then double-bag it before it goes into the trash, just like you do with pills.
Needles are a different matter. To protect caregivers and sanitation workers, used sharps should be placed in a rigid container made of thick plastic, like laundry and bleach bottles. Do not use glass or soda bottles; glass can break and needles go right through thin plastic.
If you prefer and can pay, some companies will send sharps containers that you can have picked up when full. Ask your local pharmacist for companies that operate in your area.
Tell a Friend
According to the FDA, most medicines in our water system are excreted in our waste, after the body uses what it needs. But an improperly flushed pill delivers a full jolt of whatever you’ve been taking. We all want to feel better, but not at the expense of mak-ing other creatures – human or animal – sick. Now that you know how to handle medical waste at home, please pass on what you learned. Our public waters and the creatures that call them home could use the help