By Sarah Netherton/University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine
One common cause for a call to the Animal Poison Control Center, a program of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is that a pet has eaten human medications. Dianna Black, a pharmacist at the UI Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, offers tips on how to properly and safely dispose of expired and unneeded medications.
"To prevent accidental poisonings, medications should be stored away from pets," Black said, "and owners need to be on the alert for situations where a pet might discover medications in a purse or travel bag of a visitor."
In fact, prescription medications, whether for human or animal patients, pose considerable health threats if taken in any way other than as prescribed. That's why these drugs are dispensed in a container with a childproof cap, to help prevent access by kids or pets. And that's also why medications that have expired or are otherwise no longer needed must be disposed of in a safe and responsible manner.
Some might think, "What's the harm in throwing a bottle of medication in the trash or flushing a few pills down the toilet?"
Black said water treatment facilities do not remove drugs from the water supply. Once they get into the water, they are there, with great potential to harm wildlife, the environment and subsequently humans.
For example, drugs called endocrine disrupters — chemicals that can interfere with the body's hormones — can affect the reproductive health of animals. Studies have shown that endocrine disrupters in the environment can lead to decreased fertility in fish, birds, shellfish and mammals, as well as decreased hatch rates in fish, birds and turtles.
Medications that are flushed down the toilet or poured in the sink negatively impact aquatic animals and can contaminate the drinking water. Medications should never be disposed of in this way.
The best and safest way to responsibly dispose of unwanted medications is through the Drug Enforcement Administration's national drug take-back days, Black said.
"These take-back days usually occur every October and April. Unwanted and expired medications can be given to the authorities to be properly disposed of," she said.
Black said the next best way to discard of medicine is to mix it with coffee grounds or kitty litter. If the medicine is in pill form, it should be dissolved in water before being mixed with the coffee grounds or litter. The mixture can then be bagged and disposed of in the garbage.
Some pharmacies and veterinary clinics may take unneeded medications for proper disposal as well.
Proper disposal of medications ensures that the drugs don't pollute the environment. Getting unneeded medications out of the house also helps keep children and pets safe.
An archive of pet columns from the UI College of Veterinary Medicine is available at http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/ . Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy, email@example.com.