On World Pharmacists Day, public urged to properly dispose expired drugs

Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 25 2019 07:06 PM | Updated as of Sep 25 2019 08:27 PM

MANILA -- Medicines are designed to improve your health -- if they are meant for you. What is safe for one, however, could be harmful to others. 

While people are particular about storing their medicines to keep them potent, safe disposal of unused and unwanted drugs is often overlooked. 

In 2016, Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization dedicated to protect kids from unintentional harm, reported that every year around 60,000 children in the United States alone are poisoned by mistakenly ingesting medicine. 

"Secure disposal of unused, unwanted, and expired medicine is important to ensure the safety of household members, prevent accidental or intentional ingestion, and minimize pharmaceutical pollution in waterways," Aleth Therese Dacanay, dean of University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Pharmacy, said. 

To avoid poisoning, drug addiction, and even drug trafficking caused by misplaced meds, the Food and Drug Administration, recommends mixing unwanted medicines with "unappealing substances." 

"Remove the medicine from its original container, and mix with unappealing substances like cat litter and put in a disposable container. Remove any labels that bear personal information from any medicine bottle [before throwing] in the bin," Dacanay advised. 

According to the FDA, however, the safest way to dispose of expired, unwanted, or unused medicines is through medicine take-back programs. 

Dacanay, along with the UST Faculty of Pharmacy, urged everyone to be co-advocates of proper medicine disposal by surrendering their unused, unwanted, and expired prescription or over the counter (OTC) medicine at the Recipio booths they have set up at all the building lobbies of the university. 

"Drug take-back collection programs provide communities with a simple, safe, and effective way to dispose of their leftover medicines," Dacanay said. 

While flushing is a popular method (and accepted method provided the drug is included in FDA's flush list) for discarding medicine, not all types of drugs can be filtered by water treatment plants.

"Unfortunately, when people dispose of their medicines, they often flush them down the toilet, not knowing that most wastewater treatment plants are not designed to safely remove medicine from water," Dacanay explained. 

Aside from misplaced drugs being a health hazard, the unsafe disposal of drugs can negatively impact the envoronment. 

"Water treatment plants can only filter out about half of pharmaceuticals that reach them through flushing, leading to potential effects on plants, fish, and even our drinking water. These drugs end up contaminating our streams, rivers, and waterways," Dacanay explained. 

All the medicine surrendered to the program will be identified and sorted by professional handlers. 

"For take-back medicines like antimicrobials, steroids, and the like, we will remove any labels that bear personal information from the medicine containers. We will then pack the medicines for take back in their original containers, so that handlers can identify them and know how to dispose," Dacanay said. 

"We are hoping that this advocacy be embraced by everyone to save lives and to save the environment. Looking forward to make it on a national level through the creation of a national policy in proper medication disposal," Dacanay added.