Reader letter: Don t forget to flush

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After we discussed the upcoming National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, to be held this Friday, April 28, reader Paul Hilling of Anchorage, Alaska, took us to task for neglecting to discuss another method of disposing of unused medications:

I am disappointed that you did not cover the issue of the claims by so many "authorities" that flushing unused medications down the toilet will somehow pollute waterways. I strongly suspect that such fears are unfounded and that official recommendations to take unused drugs to a collection site simply feed the public's fear of "chemicals" regardless of how small the dose.

If in fact flushing drugs down the toilet presents no significant risk, how much better would that that practice be than the risk of having the drugs fall into the wrong hands due to the increased handling and transport?

It s true, Paul. While experts recommend medicine take-back programs first and foremost and after that, mixing medicines with an unpalatable substance like kitty litter or coffee grounds before placing them in a sealed plastic bag and throwing it all in the trash flushing is often an acceptable alternative.

The FDA notes that the majority of medicines found in the water system are a result of the body s natural routes of drug elimination (in urine or feces). Scientists, to date, have found no evidence of harmful effects to human health from medicines in the environment. The agency even maintains a list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing these drugs are largely those that can be especially harmful when ingested by anyone for whom they aren t prescribed.