Opioid abuse has become a huge problem in the United States. After many minor procedures and trauma people are prescribed pain medication. Oftentimes people have leftover pills that end up sitting around the home. This is one source of pills that may be misused or abused by others, or the patient themselves and can lead to addiction. No one usually wants to waste their medicine, but with the abuse potential and danger of these opioids, disposal then becomes an issue.
Leftover pain medications that are opioids need to be handled properly. When storing them at home, due to the street value and abusive potential, they should be kept hidden and locked away securely. One does not want these medications to ever be lost or stolen. Furthermore, easy access may allow another household member or friend the ability to take the opioids and use or abuse them. Your safety and others is dependent on keeping all your medications secure and used only according to the directions of the prescriber.
Disposal of medications has become a major problem. Most drugs, no matter the category, are considered hazardous substances. Drugs can be toxic to other people, animals and the environment. Studies of wastewater have often showed traces of a wide variety of substances from birth control hormones, to antidepressants and narcotics. The most common recommendation for drug disposal has been to flush them down the toilet. Unfortunately this has led to the spread of many compounds into the water system and the environment. A better solution for personal disposal is to crush and mix the pills with dirt or cat litter making the drug unusable and disposing with the trash.
Currently, the best option for disposal is burning the medication in a commercial incinerator. This actually destroys and fairly safely vaporizes most medications. Minnesota does have a program coordinated by local law enforcement offices to take unused prescription medications, and these are sent for hazardous waste incineration. Unfortunately this is not the most convenient system for a lot of people. Physician offices usually do not have the ability to do this but often they can add prescription medications to other drugs and materials that are sent out as hazardous waste on a very limited basis. Pharmacies and drugstores do not generally have the ability to accept returned medications.
Hopefully in the near future, Minnesota will develop a system to encourage medication return to pharmacies for disposal in a secure and proper way. A wide spread system of pharmacy return and transfer for incineration would be ideal. For this to occur, Minnesota would need to change its law and assist with the coordination of collection and proper disposal. This would be a major step forward in reducing medication available for abuse and it would lessen the toxic effects on the environment.
Thomas Cohn, MD
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