Medication disposal practices: Increasing patient and clinician education on safe methods

J Int Med Res. 2018 Mar;46(3):927-939. doi: 10.1177/0300060517738681. Epub 2018 Jan 11.


Recent research suggests that the nation's water supply is contaminated with trace pharmaceuticals that exert a negative environmental and public health impact. Incorrect medication disposal methods (e.g. flushing medications down the toilet or drain) are a significant factor contributing to the presence of medication compounds in the aquatic environment. In this commentary, we provide a summary of the existing data on pharmaceuticals in the nation's water as well as the role of improper medication disposal methods on water contamination. We discuss statistics on improper medication disposal practices among patients and clinicians as well as recent advances in proper medication disposal methods as a solution to this problem. Currently, many patients and clinicians are not aware of proper medication disposal practices. We summarize the importance of patient and clinician education in advancing environmental-safe medication disposal methods.

Keywords: Medication disposal; clinician education; environmental pollution; medication take-back programs; patient education.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Education, Pharmacy / organization & administration
  • Environmental Monitoring / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Education / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Medical Waste Disposal / ethics*
  • Medical Waste Disposal / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Medical Waste Disposal / methods
  • Patient Education as Topic / organization & administration
  • Prescription Drugs / analysis*
  • United States
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Supply


  • Medical Waste Disposal
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical