Disposing of RA Medications Properly

One of the most frustrating parts of moving from Michigan to New York was figuring out what I was going to do with all of my extra medications, syringes, and sharps container.  It was a struggle.

While I have read about other people taking unused medications to their doctors, neither my hospital pharmacy nor my doctors’ offices would take any of the medications back.

Unfortunately, as important as disposing of medications properly is, how to do it is not clear cut at all.

I have even been told by pharmacists, when I have asked in the past, to simply flush things down the toilet because that’s what they do with their own personal medications.  But I wanted to be not only a good steward of the environment, but I didn’t think it was good to put some of the high powered medications that many of us with RA take potentially into the water supply.

Finally, I found a medical supply store near where my parents live where I was able to dispose of my used syringes and injection pens, in a sharps container, my unopened vials of injectable Methotrexate, and my unused Humira pen.

This one-stop “dropping” made my life much easier, even though finding the place to do it wasn’t easy.

While some police departments take back unused and expired prescription medications, this only includes pills, and does not include sharps or other injectables.

To dispose of pills, it is suggested that you take them out of their original containers, mix drugs with “undesirable substances” like coffee grounds and/or cat litter, mix the medication and the substance together, put them in a container with a top, remove any personal information, and put it in the trash.

This is what I did for pills that I wanted to get rid of.  The main reason you mix the medications with other substances is to deter people from digging them out, should they be found in the trash.

Unfortunately, regulations about who will take back sharps and injectable medications vary by state, and even by county.

For example, in New York State, hospitals are required to be depositories for sharps that were used in a patient’s home.  In Michigan, this is not the case.  However, in both states, it is legal to dispose of sharps in a capped, laundry detergent bottle that is placed in the trash.  This is not recommended, however, for various reasons.  I have only mentioned Michigan and New York here because they are the states I am dealing with, but you should be sure to look at and abide by your own state’s regulations.

This makes it very difficult for those of us who want to dispose of medications properly to do so.

There are also some mail back programs for sharps or you can obtain a needle destruction device (for a cost).

Of course, you should follow any specific disposal instructions that come with individual medications.

October 26, 2013 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. is The 7th Annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

To understand the scope of this effort, since 2010, 2.8 million pounds of medication have been collected.  While this is a great program, it does not help people who are trying to properly dispose of medications other times throughout the year, like when you are doing spring cleaning, going through medication changes, or moving.

You can find the information provided here and more through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  You can also find more specific information about this year’s take-back events at http://www.awarerx.org/.

Remember that disposing of medications does not just affect us as patients.  Flushing medications can cause them to leach into the drinking water, and can have other negative consequences, impacting our families and communities.

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