Your Drugs May Have Expired, But Their Impact Hasn’t

by Julie Edelstein ’22

Published Oct. 4th, 2020

Having to worry about how to dispose of expired or unused prescription medications is likely an issue that many assume they will never have to think about. However, it is this exact lack of attention that makes this an issue in the first place, and there is nobody to blame for it: when a system that allows these practices to happen is already widely established, it becomes difficult, even avoidable, to hold accountability.

Throwing unneeded medicine in the trash seems like a practical enough solution, but many fail to understand the potential consequences of it. Dr. Bert Mandelbaum, a local pediatrician at Princeton Nassau Pediatrics, suggests that, even on the simplest level, “if you inappropriately dispose of an antibiotic, it could get into the water supply, or someone who shouldn’t have that antibiotic could take the antibiotic inappropriately.”

Someone seeking drugs or narcotics, possibly a teenager, may be able to easily access these substances because they were left in the trash or at a poorly kept disposal site—and simply because it is a rare scenario does not mean that it does not hurt lives. Whose fault is that: the government, the physician, the pharmacist, or the user? Dr. Mandelbaum states that there are “no consequences for anyone in the [supply chain] – they don’t control the actions, they can’t stop people from doing the wrong way of disposing.” 

Negative effects on personal health are not the only consequences resulting from the improper disposal of prescription medications. Syringes, needles or sharps are especially dangerous as they can cause injury, undergo contamination, and spread diseases. Many medicines also have ramifications that may be detrimental to the environment when they are not appropriately disposed of. For instance, many resort to flushing drugs down the toilet, which can ultimately end up contaminating natural bodies of water and damaging aquatic ecosystems, which is why it is important to dispose medications at a secure recycling drop-off bin. 

These issues would be entirely preventable if more people understood their significance, but unfortunately they have instead become a topic that is left unacknowledged. With additional quarantine restrictions, it has become only more difficult to access proper medication disposal sites. Despite this, spreading awareness can often prompt others to put in effort to make changes. Education is often all that is needed to make any community a healthier one.

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