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Old Drugs? We End Up Drinking Them

What should we do with old prescription medicines? The pharmacy won't take them back, and most charities won't take them either. Most people flush them down the toilet, not realizing that they end up in the water we drink, so that we're "taking" lots of medicines that haven't been prescribed for us.

Water treatment processes remove dangerous bacteria but aren't able to remove dissolved medicines. Scientists say that the water in many cities is contaminated with estrogen from the urine of women on replacement hormones and birth control pills. But we're not only drinking estrogen--The U.S. Geological Survey has found traces of painkillers, antidepressants, blood-pressure medicines and more in water samples from 30 different states.

One study estimated that nursing homes discard between $73 million to $378 million worth of drugs a year, and many of these are flushed. Exposure to hormones can affect the reproductive abilities of fish, and drinking antibiotics may encourage development of drug-resistant germs in people. "The age-old wisdom of flushing medication down the toilet?is probably the least desirable of all the alternatives," says the EPA's Christian Daughton.

Australia has solved the problem by collecting more than 760 tons of medicines since 1998, when they started a program to allow people to return unwanted drugs to pharmacies so they can be incinerated. This is the safest method of disposal, because when medicine bottles are thrown in the trash, the medicines can seep into landfills and eventually contaminate the water that way, too. If you have to throw medicine away, it's best to break up capsules and crush tablets, then put them back into the original container, if it has a childproof cap. Tape up the bottle and double-bag it before tossing it in the trash.

This sounds great, but how many of us will really take the time and trouble to do all this? Meanwhile, when we take our medicine, we have to wonder what's in the water we're washing it down with.

One solution may be using music to heal. Steven Halpern composes music especially for this purpose.

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I work for a local health authority and we partner a couple of times a year with local pharmacies for drug take back days. In addition, the FDA has some rules and guidelines on how to dispose of old medications as safely as possible. Go to:

http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm101653.htm

About once a year I clean out old medications (mostly over-the-counter) and empty them into a zip-lock plastic bag filled with kitty litter. Add a little water, mush it up, zip, and dispose in your trash. You really do not want to keep them in their original containers.

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