6 ways to avoid having your unused medicines taint our water

One of the ways unused medications end up in the nation’s rivers is people don’t dispose of them properly.

Up to a third of prescription medicine is never taken by the patient, research shows, and that can be dangerous both to the public and to the environment.

Leaving them in the home means others — sometimes small children — can have access to them, and flushing them down the toilet can lead to a host of problems, including having the drugs seep into rivers and streams and possibly even tap water.

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Public health officials say they don’t believe the public is at risk from improper disposal of medications — the nation’s treatment processes for now are preventing that from happening — but aquatic life may be impacted. And they say more study is needed to determine the environmental risks posed by the pain relievers, antibiotics, hormones, anti-depressants and plethora of illegal drugs people put in their bodies.

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One solution is keeping unused medications from contributing to the problem. Here are six ways to dispose of them properly.

1) The best way is through a take-back program or event, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Many local agencies participate in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s biannual National Drug Take Back Day, held next on Oct. 28. Collection sites will be announced by Oct. 1.

2) Many law enforcement offices provide drop-off locations for unused or expired medicine. The location of drop boxes can be searched at rxDrugDropBox.org.

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3) The DEA also authorizes collectors, often pharmacies, that will accept unused medicine and dispose of it.

RELATED: Search for authorized collectors near you

4) Check to see if your mail-order pharmacy offers a “mail-back” envelope for unused prescriptions.

5) Drug disposal bags are available in some locations. Charcoal deactivates the pills and makes them inert. The The U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration also recommends mixing medicines (without crushing tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as cat litter or used coffee grounds. Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bage and put contrainer in the trash.

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6) In rare instances, the FDA does recommend flushing drugs down the toilet: If the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs you to do so, or if the drug is especially dangerous and even lethal to other people or pets.

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