Unwanted and Leftover Medications

Many people have medicines in their home that they are no longer using, whether they were prescribed during an illness a person has recovered from, or belonged to an elderly person who has passed on, or belonged to a patient who has been prescribed a different medication from what they were taking before. Hospitals and pharmacies, too, have many extra medications that are not needed. So when there are leftover medications, how do you dispose of them? In the old days I remember my parents flushing them down the toilet, but that was before we knew of the environmental concerns of having so many different medications in our water system. Getting rid of unwanted medications from the home also keeps them out of the hands (and mouths) of small children. So, the State of Colorado has established two programs to deal with unwanted medications.

One program is the Colorado Medication Take-Back Project. Under this program, anyone can drop off their unwanted medications at a variety of pharmacies around the Denver metro area and in Summit County. (The list of locations can be found on the project website.) The project helps keep the environment clean by reducing the number of medications in the water system and in landfills. Instead, medications that are dropped off through this program are disposed of via hazardous waste incineration. See also the Colorado Dept. of Public Health & Environment’s Fact Sheet on the program.

The second program was established by SB10-115 in the Colorado Legislature last year. This program allows health facilities to dispose of their unneeded medications, medical devices, and other medical supplies, including those donated by patients, residents, or patients’ next of kin, by donating them to non-profit organizations to be re-dispensed to others in need. The bill was originally crafted with the idea that unwanted medications could be sent to the relief effort in Haiti following that country’s devastating earthquake, but the bill allows for medications to be passed on for other causes as well. Donations must be made through a licensed health facility (hospital, clinic, pharmacy). Donated medications must be unopened and in their original containers, so leftover pills from households are not being accepted at this time.

Both of these programs provide benefits for the disposal of unwanted medications: helping the environment and helping those less fortunate. So next time you’re considering flushing or trashing your unneeded meds, think of these programs first.