Pharmaceutical Recycling: Keeping your Drugs out of the Drinking Water

drugs on tapOn March 10th, 2008 CNN reported that, "A vast array of pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones -- have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans."  The drugs are entering our drinking water through human and animal bodies (use your imagination - I don't want to have to spell it out for you) or from people throwing away / flushing old pharmaceuticals.

Given these findings we have a few options:  1) We can take Amy Poehler of Saturday Night Lives' advice and freebase our Brita filters.  2)  We can give unused medication to organizations that use them to save lives.  3) We can find responsible manners to dispose of expired medications other than flushing them down the toilet.

Option 1 requires me to take apart my Brita filter so it's no good - On to option 2...

The Health Equity Project (HEP), established in 1986, strives to provide quality health care to socially marginalized populations in countries throughout the world.  If you can think back to some of the more miserable illnesses in your life and the suffering you would have experienced without even a basic pain , then you will begin to understand the magnitude of the anguish this organization alleviates. HEP recognized that millions of people die in developing countries every year from treatable diseases.  Children's small bodies are the most vulnerable.  According to UNICEF, "Every year an estimated 9.7 million children under the age of five die from largely preventable causes. [They] die because they lack access to basic services." These services include access to drugs that treat diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and HIV/AIDS.  Many of the same drugs we are guilty of cavalierly pitching in the garbage.

Health Equity Project accepts antibiotics, anti-malarials, pain-relievers, HIV/AIDS anti-retrovirals, Diflucan, and flucanazole.  Pack them up quick and ship them away before they expire because international and local laws prevent HEP from shipping dead medicine. Unfortunately, because transportation costs are expensive, they cannot accept medications other than those listed.  These medications could be the difference between life and death for people in countries like Ghana , Gambia , or Uganda where a small infection can quickly turn into a deadly disease.

Ship unexpired medicines to:

Health Equity Project

61 Jane St., Suite 1E  New York, NY 10014

The organization requests that you, "Please leave labeling in place, although you are free to remove any personally identifying information such as your name and address."

Another non-profit trying to balance the inequity of medical care for impoverished populations through use of recycled medicine is RAMP USA.  RAMP (Recycled AIDS Medicine Program) gathers unused HIV medicines from individuals, health professionals and community groups.  These medications are put to use by organizations overseas like AID for AIDS, Center for AIDS Services (Zimbabwe), and Siempre Unidos (Honduras).

The group's website says, "RAMP accepts all HIV medications and associated drugs used to treat HIV-related conditions." Go here to learn more about making donations.

If you do have expired medication or drugs that do not fit into one of the recycle categories, call your pharmacy and ask if they accept unused medication for proper disposal.  The U.S. drug store chain CVS will take unused medication so it can be disposed of by a hazardous waste facility.  Always call ahead to your local pharmacy to check if they accept old medication for proper disposal and if they don't, insist that they start a program soon. 

It's important to consider that the medication you flush down the toilet today might be force-fed to you through your municipal water supply tomorrow.

Further Reading:


If you see any unhelpful comments, please let us know immediately. (anonymous)

Please place an article such as this in a few magazines such as AARP, AAA Auto Club, National Christian Magazines (not presently able to pick and choose) and perhaps Reminise Magazine. The Senior Citizens I am sure would want to respond as this is a frequently asked question. What do do with unused medicines? I'm so glad I found this article.

Written in December 2008

Chris Tobias, Editor (anonymous)

Hi there, just thought I'd make the recommendation that the previous poster write letters of the editor of AARP, AAA Auto Club, et al to alert them to the fact this information exists. Editors respond quite positively to useful information and feedback from readers. Cheers.

Written in December 2008

Stefanie Sellars (anonymous)

Called CVS and they do not have any such recycling program. They did however look up and household hazardous waste program that takes items 6 times a year in my area run by our local government.

Written in May 2010

Thanks Stefanie. I think the CVS program was either discontinued or is only in certain areas which is a bummer. If anyone finds any other recycling programs for medications please let me know...

Written in May 2010

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  • Posted on July 29, 2008. Listed in:

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