Recent studies indicate that 10-30% of medications prescribed and distributed are never taken. The advised method for disposal is currently home disposal, which requires mixing of pharmaceuticals in plastic bags with scavenger-deterring substances prior to tossing them in a trashcan. If not disposed of in this manner, stockpiled pills pose threats of accidental ingestion, sale, and theft.

However, recent environmental studies indicate that the method previously endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for home disposal has increased the concentration of pharmaceuticals in natural water supplies. The studies indicate that all over the nation, levels of pharmaceuticals that leak into natural water supplies range between nanograms to low micrograms per liter of water, measures that pose harm to humans and the environment. Therefore, in the past year, the FDA and DEA have initiated support of “take-back” kiosks, in which pharmaceutical retailers collect unused medications for regulated processing. These kiosks are based on the idea of “Extended Producer Responsibility,” which requires that producers of environmentally-harmful products, such as pharmaceuticals, take responsibility for their future disposal.

Currently, the FDA and DEA only endorse take-back programs over home disposal in areas where kiosks are readily available, which are typically temporary. However, many local west-coast U.S. governments have passed legislation mandating the development of “quarterly take-back events” by pharmaceutical companies. Should further research show that the damage from the concentration of pharmaceutical leakage from landfills is substantial, take-back programs could become more widespread. For the time being, it is crucial that the public is informed of the potential risks associated with improper disposal of pharmaceuticals.  


1. DOI:10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.09.031

2. Hochman, M.E. (MD, MPH). (2016). Disposing of Unused Medications: Have We Been Doing it All Wrong? The American Journal of Medicine. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.08.031.


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