A proactive prescription

When medications expire, what should you do?

Nora Stelter

Nora Stelter, assistant professor of clinical studies at Drake University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, answers some questions on the proper disposal of pharmaceuticals.

Why is it important to dispose of expired pharmaceuticals?

Infants or pets can accidentally ingest unused medications, and unused medications are at risk for abuse. A safe process for medication disposal, such as the TakeAway program in Iowa, can help remove unused, outdated or unwanted medications from the home to help prevent exposure.

Can medications be flushed down the toilet or thrown away?

Flushing medications or tossing them in the garbage is not a preferred method of disposal. When medications are flushed down the toilet, they may end up in Iowa’s water supply, and typical water treatment systems are not adequately equipped to remove pharmaceuticals. Additionally, medications disposed of in the garbage are sent to landfills where they may contaminate the land or wash away into the water supply.

Can you take unused medications to a local pharmacy for proper disposal?

Yes. This is exactly the goal of Iowa’s statewide TakeAway program, which began in late 2009. Spearheaded by the Iowa Pharmacy Association, more than 400 participating community pharmacies across all of Iowa’s 99 counties have contributed to the program’s ongoing effort. TakeAway encourages individuals to bring their unwanted and expired medications to participating community pharmacies. To find a drop-off pharmacy and see a list of medications acceptable for drop off, visit www.iarx.org/takeaway/.

Drake pharmacy students -- and Pill Dude -- share important information on safe medication disposal with the community.

What happens to medications after drop off?

The pharmacist will dispose of the returned medications, placing the pharmaceuticals in a waste bin specially designed to safely store discarded medical products along with their packaging. Once filled, the bin is sealed and shipped to a medication disposal facility for incineration, ensuring that unused and expired pharmaceuticals do not enter water supplies. In addition, the incineration facility used by the TakeAway program employs a waste-to-energy incineration process, harnessing the energy produced by incineration into electricity.

Are there alternative methods of drop off?

Some participating pharmacies also sell TakeAway envelopes: pre-addressed, postage-paid large envelopes that can be taken into the home, filled with unused and expired medicine and mailed through the United States Postal Service to the disposal facility.

What is Drake doing to help?

As part of Drake’s involvement with the TakeAway program, Drake pharmacy students are educating community members on proper medication disposal. With the help of the program’s mascot, Pill Dude, the students have visited 12 senior centers in the Des Moines area to share information.

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