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How to Dispose of Expired, Unused medicines at Home

Have you ever wondered what is to be done with the expired tablets, capsules or any other medicines at your home? Well, the answer is DISPOSAL. Read this expert column by Dr. Kamla Pathak, Dean and Professor, Pharmacy College, Uttar Pradesh University of Medical Sciences, Saifai and learn the way out…

Irrespective of whether the expired drug products have requisite potency or not, they are safe or toxic; it is ethically and legally not advisable to use them or keep them stored at your homes. While the expired medicines may not pose a serious health hazard, nevertheless, their proper disposal is necessary.

Dr. Kamla Pathak, Dean and Professor, Pharmacy College, Uttar Pradesh University of Medical Sciences, Saifai

Dangers of Inappropriate Disposal

Inappropriate disposal of expired drug products may pose serious issues including – contamination of drinking water due to the possibility of  drug leachate(s), or, the disposal of antibiotics and disinfectants into the sewage system may kill microbes/living forms, disposal of anti-cancer drugs into water source may damage aquatic life forms, burning of the drug products in open may release of toxic pollutants in to the air, and lastly, a serious concern is insecure disposal in original packaging may lead to recycling of the date expired drug products by unscrupulous minds.

At individual level, the most obvious way is to dispose the drug products through the household waste management system. This should be done carefully otherwise it could possibly lead to misuse of drug products. The picture below is a simple DIY that you can follow.

Community pharmacies can play a significant role in effective disposal of expired drug products by selecting appropriate disposal method. Pharmacies can collect expired drug products and dispose them off as a community service. Additionally, government aided drug product take back offers is another plausible solution.

Ways to Dispose off the Expired Drugs

The following disposal methods have been recommended by WHO.
Returning to the manufacturer: Wherever feasible this should be the first choice as the manufacturer is likely to have good disposal method(s), that may not negatively impact the environment.  

Landfill:  One of the oldest and most practiced methods for solid waste disposal. It is essentially placing the waste material directly into a land disposal site without prior treatment. Three types of procedures are recognized (i) Open uncontrolled non-engineered dump; (ii) Engineered landfill, and (iii) Highly engineered sanitary landfill. The latter two have features for protection to loss of chemicals to an aquifer. The untreated pharmaceutical waste must be immediately covered with other municipal waste to prevent scavenging.

Sewer: Some liquid pharmaceuticals like syrups, parenteral (intravenous fluids) can be flushed into sewer after proper dilution. Likewise, small quantities of expired liquid drug products including antiseptics can also be disposed of by flushing after dilution. The USFDA recommends a list of medication to be disposed of via flushing down the toilet if consumers are unable to take these to a drug take-back program

Burning in open containers :  Burning of expired drug products at low temperature in open containers may release toxic pollutants to the environment that may pose serious threats to may life forms. The method is therefore recommended only for disposal of small quantities of waste drug products. 

What do you think?

Written by transformative

Transformative is single-handedly maneuvered and navigated under the expert hands of Dr. Supriya Himanshu, Consulting Editor, Transformative. Dr. Supriya, who has spent more than 15 years in media industry, working with media houses like TOI, HT, MediaTransAsia, The Statesman, TheHindu, Danika Jagran, both in print and online space, from Deputy Editor to being a Freelancer, is conceptualizing the content and cover, in sync with today’s need.


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