Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: New prescription for some leftover drugs

Are containers of unused and unneeded medications clogging your medicine cabinet or drug drawer? If so, some spring cleaning is in order. Here are some tips for doing it with an eye on human and environmental safety.

Recommendations from the FDA urge us to flush away two dozen leftover medications, almost all of them painkillers or sedatives. Although this isn't the ideal solution — drugs flushed down the toilet can eventually make their way into rivers, lakes, and drinking water supplies — it will limit the number of tragedies that happen when children, pets, and other living creatures get into these unused medications.

What to do with everything else? The most environmentally responsible solution is to find a medication take-back program. You can learn if there is one in your area by talking with your pharmacist or calling your city's or county's trash and recycling service. If no such program is available (they are still few and far between), here's what the FDA recommends:

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