Medicine Take-Back Disposal
Medicines collected by take-back programs are destroyed in a way that protects our environment.
Once a shipment of boxes has accumulated in a secure storage area, the waste medicines are sent to a disposal facility. Pharmacy take-back programs use licensed pharmaceutical waste disposal companies to securely transport the medicines. Law enforcement take-back programs, that collect prescription drugs that are controlled substances, transport the medicines to a disposal facility with law enforcement escort as required by current federal rules. A recent change to federal law is expected to make this process easier by authorizing licensed pharmaceutical waste disposal companies to transport controlled substances from take-back programs.
Since most waste medicines are hazardous waste or dangerous waste under federal and state laws, they need to be disposed of properly. Currently, high temperature incineration at properly permitted facilities is the standard for disposal of waste pharmaceuticals from hospitals, pharmacies, and drug company manufacturers. High temperature incineration completely destroys the chemical activity of the pharmaceuticals. Properly permitted incinerators use equipment to capture pollutants to keep our air clean.
Medicine take-back programs in Washington strive to send collected medicines to the most environmentally sound disposal facilities. One program uses a licensed disposal company to ship unwanted medicines to a hazardous waste incinerator in Utah – this is currently the most environmentally protective method of medicine disposal. The current regulations requiring law enforcement custody of controlled substances, along with limited funding, sometimes mean that collected medicines are destroyed at facilities not designed for hazardous waste. Some programs are using high temperature municipal solid waste incinerators in Spokane, Washington and Brooks, Oregon. Law enforcement programs may use other types of incinerators that satisfy the regulations for disposal of controlled substances.
Incinerating medicines is currently the best method available to prevent these drugs from contaminating our waters, causing an accidental poisoning, or contributing to drug abuse.