Medication Disposal After a Death in 2021

Medication Disposal After Death

One of the essential things that the families and loved ones of the dead have to do is disposing of the medications. Keeping the excess and unused medicine in the house, especially with children, can lead to unwarranted risks and accidents when they are no longer needed.

           According to the FDA, one of the significant causes of accidental poisoning in children is exposure to hazardous medicines kept in the houses. Reports suggest that children below six have accidentally ingested medication resulting in up to 450,000 poisoning cases and 60,000 emergency cases.

           Therefore, it is better for the deceased’s loved ones to dispose of the leftover medications that no longer have a purpose. This removal helps prevent people from accidentally ingesting or intentionally abusing the drug.

           Medications containing opioids like narcotic pain relievers are especially harmful. There is a high chance of intentional, unintentional, or illegal abuse of these opioid drug prescriptions. Disposing of these medications would ensure that their children or pets don’t accidentally ingest, misuse, or touch them. Taking proper action would keep the loved ones from harm’s way.

What Not to Do with Unused Medications

What Not to Do with Unused Medications
What Not to Do with Unused Medications

            Relatives of the deceased often wonder what to do with prescription drugs of their loved ones. Leftover and unused medications are usually thrown away or donated to people in need based on their ingredients and the expiry date. Before exploring those options, it is important to note things that one must not do with unused medication.

1) One should not throw medications in the recycle bin.

2) Prescribed drugs should not be given to family or friends with the same ailments without consulting a doctor. Prescriptions vary from person to person and symptom to symptom. The leftover drugs that doctors had prescribed for the recently deceased might be harmful to others.

3) One must not throw drugs into bins for recycling without dissolving them. Undissolved medications thrown in the trash might be found and misused or ingested by scavenging humans or animals, which might be hazardous.

4) Consumers must not throw medications down the toilet as they might get mixed in the water channels and pollute the ecosystem.

Methods to Dispose of Unused Medications of the Deceased

Methods to Dispose of Unused Medications of the Deceased

1)    Donating the surplus medicines

It is recommended and noble to donate sealed, unused, unexpired medications that are not opioids or narcotics. Drugs expired, close to expiration, opened, or used must not be given away for others to use. Various states in the U.S. have passed laws to allow and encourage people to donate excess medicines to appropriate collectors.

Charitable clinics and drugstores would inspect the drugs for their quality and safety. If they meet the standards, this way, relatives of the deceased can donate prescription drugs overseas.

The authorized collectors to whom people can donate medicines are:

– Non-profit clinics

– Pharmacies

– Hospitals

– Law enforcement collection sites

– Prescription drug collection programs

Anyone looking to get rid of prescription drugs safely can find a list of local disposal locations here.  

           People from a poor economic background, those with no life insurance, or those who cannot afford the exorbitant cost of medications benefit from these donated medications. Donation is the best way to dispose of leftover drugs, considering the rising costs of medicines. It would help save the lives of those in need.

Like World Medical Relief, donation programs are present in various parts of the world, designed to collect medications up for disposal. They need to meet specific standards to be accepted. The medicines need to be neatly sealed in a container or packaged, and the expiration date must be at least six months before the date of donation. Medications that are refrigerated or frozen will not be accepted.

SIRUM (Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine) is an online platform for medication donation, started by Stanford University students. Many facilities and organizations like county-owned clinics or federal health centers serve medicines from here to low-income patients.

Donating surplus medication is the best option for disposal as it results in less generation of waste and hence protecting the environment from getting polluted. It also helps save the lives of people who cannot afford expensive drugs available in the stores.

2)    Disposing medications through take-back programs

Another safe method to dispose of unused medicines is through take-back programs introduced by the new federal laws. People can bring their unused and excess drugs to National Prescription Drug Take-Back Programs conducted in accessible locations by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to dispose of them properly.

Prescribed drugs cannot be sent back to pharmacies, hospitals or doctors as it is considered illegal. Therefore, take-back programs are the best option to discard them.

The drug take-back programs accept unwanted, unopened, unused, or expired drugs at the designated locations. They can be prescribed or bought over the counters. However, they do not accept injectables, intravenous medicines, or needles. The medications collected are put in controlled incinerators and destroyed by the proper authorities.

Some hospitals, pharmacies, and local law-enforcement agencies have authorization for take-back programs. Apart from these places, people can dispose of medications in

– Collection receptacles– Many communities have secure medication receptacles that collect such products.

– Take-back events– A specific day and place are assigned by the Drug Enforcement Administration for people to bring their unused and unexpired medications and submit them for disposal.

Disposal by Mail– Certain pharmacies provide mail-back envelopes for the removal of prescription drugs.  

The city government or the county provides information about take-back programs conducted in the area.

3)    Flushing the medications appropriately

When there are surplus medicines, people who have them can flush them down the toilet only under strict conditions. Certain medications have labels providing instructions about the proper way to dispose of medications. It is important to remember that these flushed medications could get mixed with the local water canals, treatment plants, rivers, or lakes. If people consume this water, it could be harmful.

The FDA has updated a list of medications that can be flushed. If there are no take-back programs or donation collectors near the area, people can wash away medicines that can be flushed based on that list. The list explains which unwanted, unused, old, and expired drugs must be flushed when take-back options are not available. One can wash away medicines if they pose immediate harm to children in the home or drug abuse. One must do it only to prevent accidental damage or injection.

FDA Approved List of Medications that can be Flushed

           Given below are the medications that can be flushed, approved by the FDA. The FDA lists them according to the active ingredient present in them and the brands in which they are available.

·       Benzhydrocodone /Acetaminophen: Apadaz

·       Buprenorphine: Bunavail, Belbuca, Butrans, Subutex, Suboxone, Zubsolv

·       Diazepam: Diastat/Diastat AcuDial rectal gel

·       Fentanyl: Actiq, Abstral, Duragesic, Onsolis , Fentora

·       Hydrocodone: Vicodin, Lortab, Anexsia, Reprexain, Vicoprofen, Zohydro ER, Norco, Hysingla ER.

·       Hydromorphone: Exalgo, Dilaudid

·       Meperidine: Demerol

·       Methadone: Methadose, Dolophine

·       Methylphenidate: Daytrana transdermal patch system

·       Morphine: Arymo ER, Kadian, Embeda, MS Contin, Morphabond ER, Morphine Sulfate tablets, Morphine Sulfate oral solution

·       Oxycodone: Combunox, OxyContin, Oxaydo (formerly Oxecta), Percocet, Roxicet, Percodan, Roxicodone Targiniq ER, Roxybond, Xtampza ER, Xartemis XR

·       Oxymorphone: Opana ER, Opana,

·       Tapentadol: Nucynta ER, Nucynta

·       Sodium Oxybate: Xyrem oral solution

·       Avinza

·          Daytrana

·       Demerol tablets

·       Demerol oral solution

The complete revised lift of the FDA approved medications to be flushed can be found on its web page titled, “Disposal of Unused Medicines.”

           The FDA recommends that these medicines be flushed down the toilet drains when they are unused to avoid accidental ingestion or abuse. Most of these medicines fall under opiates or narcotics, which could be harmful to the body.

           Throwing them in the garbage could still result in children, pets, or scavengers ingesting the prescription drugs accidentally. These pharmaceutical drugs can be extremely hazardous and, most of the time, fatal if taken by people or animals. Consuming them without a prescription could lead to severe complications. Such situations could lead to people developing heart problems or breathing problems, ultimately leading to death.

           Take, for example, the fentanyl patch. It is a pain reliever that comes in the form of an adhesive patch. The product is sealed and comes with the instructions for proper disposal of used, unused, or leftover patches through flushing. Intaking fentanyl in excess amounts by babies, pets, and children could lead to them developing breathing problems or also cause death. If taken without a prescription by the doctor, fentanyl overdose could lead to death in adults too.

           Hydrocodone, methadone, and oxycodone are the common prescription drugs found in cases of overdose. Reports by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that prescription opioids cause about half of the opioid overdoses reported.

           Hence, the FDA recommends consumers immediately flush the medications listed by the FDA to ensure that children, babies, and pets don’t accidentally misuse, touch, or ingest the hazardous substances. The safe removal of drugs would help protect loved ones.   

Is the Environment Affected by the Flushed Medicines?

Is the Environment Affected by the Flushed Medicines?
Is the Environment Affected by the Flushed Medicines

           Some reports obtained by the FDA show that streams and lakes contain traces of prescription medications and narcotics. The Environmental Protection Agency and the FDA take this environmental threat seriously. It is worth noting that most of them come from urine and feces produced by the people who take the medications. There have been no significant reports produced by the agencies that indicate pollution caused due to prescription drugs.

           Scientists working in the Environmental Protection Agency have not found any evidence on the harmful effects of prescription drugs directly on the environment. But it is also essential that people don’t unnecessarily add on to the medication residue that is already present in the water supply.

           When considering the harm these medicines could cause to humans due to accidental ingestion of illicit abuse, the potential risk on the environment and human health is minimal. Despite these reports, it is essential to note that the FDA conducts safety checks and assessments to ensure the secure disposal of prescribed medications.

4)        Discarding the medications in the trash

There could be certain situations when certain medicines cannot be donated or flushed. Then people must follow a careful procedure to ensure that they are carefully thrown away in the trash can at home. Below are a few instructions.

a) Those who wish to discard these drugs must keep the medications like pills in their original packages to help identify them if children accidentally ingest them. They must not be ground.

b) To protect the patient’s privacy, Hospitals and pharmacies can cancel out their names, prescription number, and other personal information by blackening them. But the name and the dosage of the medication must be retained and made visible on the container. Removal of their names will ensure the patient’s confidentiality and the safety of a person who comes across the discarded drug.

c) The medication can be mixed with other inedible substances and then replaced into their containers.

d) The pills can be dissolved in soda or water and then discarded.

e) Consumers can add dirt, cat litter, cayenne pepper, or other inedible substances with medications in liquid form to prevent accidental use.

f) The medicines can be removed from their containers and replaced in leak-proof, sealed containers like coffee cans.

g) Opaque containers like coffee cans or plastic laundry bottles can cover the bottled medicine or packages.

h) The medication can be replaced in their boxes and firmly duct-taped and packaged to ensure that they are not removable.

i) Parents can hide the medicine containers in the trash can to ensure that children don’t find them.

j) Medications must be cast away close to the garbage pick-up day.

These are some ways one can ensure that no harm comes to children, pets, and their loved ones due to unused medications. These precautionary steps ensure the safety of the people and the environment.

           Immediately disposing of the surplus medications upon a family’s death could reduce potential accidental poisoning or abuse risks. By working together, people can reduce these emergency cases that happen due to mishandling of prescription drugs.

           These links contain more information regarding the proper ways to dispose of prescription medication:

How to Dispose of Unused Medicines

Where and How to Dispose of Unused Medicines

Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know

Printable: Consumer Health Information

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