Public service announcement: Throw Your Drugs Away Safely Day

There are people in this world — I’m not pointing fingers — who have extra antibiotics hanging about their houses.

Naturally, this would not be you, any of you, since you know that it’s important to finish prescriptions or risk the development of resistant bacteria. You wouldn’t forget to take your regularly scheduled doses. You wouldn’t stop early because it feels like you’re better. And you certainly wouldn’t save some drugs because someone else without insurance might benefit from them.

(Right? Please. These are not smart ideas.)

But let’s say there’s a household with extra drugs lying around. Maybe a doctor did an extra round of tests and switched a prescription to something else mid-course. Maybe someone moved away. Maybe someone died.

In which case: What do you do with them?

It’s not a good idea to just put them in the trash: Kids and pets can too-easily fish them out. (Ask me about the day my cat ate most of an old bottle of ibuprofen. Yes, she’s OK, thanks.) Most people’s impetus is to flush them. That’s an even worse idea. Tossing antibiotics into the toilet takes the risk away from your household, but it transfers the risk to all households, by adding them to wastewater.

A study published by the US Geological Survey in 2002 sampled 139 streams in 30 states and found pharmaceutical residues in 80 percent of them. Some of the sources clearly were agricultural and industrial — but others were what regulators call “pharmaceutical and personal care products,” including human-use antibiotics and other drugs. Pharmaceutical and personal care products, PPCPs for short, are an emerging concern for regulators and environmental scientists. There’s an entire USGS project devoted to them. They may not be denatured by wastewater treatment. They show up in soil. They’re taken up by plants (soybeans, in this study). And they are presumed to contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance, by putting trace amounts of antibiotics into the environment in an uncontrolled and untracked manner. Resistant organisms have been found in wastewater treatment plants, by the way.

So if you want to be responsible about this, what do you do? Getting rid of antibiotics and other drugs properly is harder than you think. The optimal method is incineration. If you happen not to have a burner in your backyard, the Office of National Drug Control Policy thinks you should mix them into used cat litter or coffee grounds and then seal the mess up.

Or you could let the government take care of it for you — which they’ve volunteered to do, this weekend, at sites around the United States.

This Saturday, Sept. 25, the US Department of Justice is staging a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day (here’s the press release). Candidly, the driver for it isn’t antibiotic misuse: it’s an attempt by the Drug Enforcement Administration to reduce the availability of prescription stimulants, opiates and so on that could be abused, sold or stolen. (Which you might suss out from the list of co-sponsors: White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Association of Attorneys General, National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, Federation of State Medical Boards and National District Attorneys Association.)

But they will take “any (prescription) that’s not a liquid, syringe or inhaler,” a DOJ spokesman told me today — antibiotics included.

You can find drop-off sites via a search engine at this page. The sites are supposed to run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time. The program represents itself as free, anonymous, no questions asked.

So get those pills out of the house. It’s the right thing to do.

Image courtesy of Flickr user hurtingbombz


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