County has new, safer options for prescription drug disposal

Prescription drugs
Photo courtesy Wikipedia

If you’ve been flushing unused medications down the toilet, it’s time to stop.

Doing so in the past has led to widespread contamination of water supplies, because wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove these compounds.

Throwing drugs into the trash or leaving them in the medicine chest, though, is also problematic, because it can lead to unintentional use, overdose or illegal abuse.

It may seem trivial, but it’s a serious issue. According to the state:

  •  In the past 10 years, prescription drug abuse has quadrupled; it now results in more deaths than all illicit street drugs combined
  • 2 percent of 12th graders have misused or abused prescription narcotics, five percent tranquilizers, and 10 percent stimulants (e.g. Adderall and Ritalin).
  •  Improper disposal of prescription drugs can create environmental hazards impacting groundwater, rivers, and harming wildlife.

Thankfully, there are better options. Did you know that in Lehigh County, there currently are two initiatives to help safely dispose of unwanted medication?

The first is The Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Take-Back Program. It was formed by the state’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs in partnership with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. Secure, permanent prescription drug take-back boxes have been installed in 18 locations across the county — you can view a map of them here.

If you’re outside the county, just go to the state’s Drug Take Back Locations page and search by zip code or county.

Here’s how to use the boxes — and what they can be used for:

  • All pharmaceutical drugs to be disposed must be placed in a sealed container such as the original bottle or zip-lock bag
  • Liquid pharmaceuticals should remain in the original container
  • Personal information should be removed or marked out with a permanent marker
  • Prescription and over-the-counter solid medications
  • Tablets and capsules
  • Pet medicines 
  • Intravenous solutions
  •  Injectables, syringes, and needles (i.e. EpiPens)*; these need to be taken to a health care professional’s office or to a hospital for disposal
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Compressed cylinders or aerosols (e.g., asthma inhalers)
  • Iodine-containing medications
  • Thermometers
  •  Alcohol & illicit drugs (i.e. marijuana, heroin, LSD, etc.)


The Morning Call recently did a story on the second option: special pouches that can deactivate pills for safe disposal in the trash. They were distributed to 44 pharmacies in the Lehigh Valley, and are offered to anyone picking up prescription painkillers.

If neither of these options is convenient, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration will be holding its annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Oct. 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Collection locations will be posted on the DEA site after Oct. 1.