Expired Meds: The Toxic Time Bombs Lurking in Your Cabinets

Improper disposal of expired medications pollutes the environment and fuels the piracy industry. Check expiration dates and visual cues, as expired meds can cause harm. Responsible disposal safeguards our environment and health.

Expired Meds: The Toxic Time Bombs Lurking in Your Cabinets
Barbara Alejandra Lerate Rosales advocates for responsible medication disposal to protect the environment. Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

In our quest for wellness, we often forget the environmental consequences of disposing of expired drugs improperly or carelessly. The disposal of these medications in the trash or down the toilet has far-reaching implications. It pollutes our environment and feeds the dangerous piracy industry, posing grave health risks to unsuspecting individuals. Barbara Alejandra Lerate Rosales, an academic from the Faculty of Chemistry at UNAM, emphasizes the importance of generating a recycling culture to tackle this issue.

One of the core problems lies in the prevalence of self-medication and incomplete treatment regimens at home. Many households tend to retain expired or unused medications, exposing them to the detrimental effects of light, humidity, and heat. These factors can alter the composition and efficacy of drugs, making them potentially harmful rather than beneficial.

However, a significant barrier to proper medication disposal is the lack of awareness and information regarding this matter. Rosales explains that to combat this issue effectively, we must bridge this knowledge gap and educate the public about the importance of responsible drug disposal.

According to the 2015 Household Environmental Practices Survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, a startling majority of respondents admitted to disposing of medical waste in regular trash bins. Only a meager 3.4 percent of participants reported using collection centers or specialized containers, with an even smaller 2.9 percent confessing to flushing medications down drains or pipes.

In 2017, the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks revealed alarming statistics. Up to that point, a staggering 3.1 billion drugs had been produced, with 6 percent making their way into the illegal or informal market. Shockingly, 9 percent of these medications posed a health risk, as 3 percent were no longer valid and had not been properly destroyed.

In the same year, Sistema Nacional de Gestión de Residuos de Envases y Medicamentos A.C. (SINGREM) stepped in to address this crisis. They disclosed that they had successfully collected and destroyed over 2,000 tons of perishable drugs. These expired medications are legally classified as toxic waste under the General Law for the Prevention and Integral Management of Waste.

Identifying Expired Medications

Rosales provides a practical tip to help identify expired medications. Check for the expiration date indicated by the pharmaceutical company on each container or blister pack. If the month and year has passed, it is advisable to dispose of the medication responsibly. SINGREM has installed collection modules in commercial stores, making it convenient for individuals to discard expired drugs safely.

Moreover, visual cues can also serve as indicators of expired medications. Medications that exhibit dust, unusual color changes, fungal growth, or residue deposits are likely to be harboring harmful bacteria. Consuming such medications can result in severe intoxications and potentially lead to hospitalization.

Fortunately, locating specialized collection points for medication disposal has become easier. Rosales suggests visiting the SINGREM website (https://www.singrem.org.mx/index.html) to find information about the 4,600 specialized containers available for disposing of expired medications across the country.

In conclusion, the improper disposal of expired medications poses a significant threat to both the environment and public health. By fostering a recycling culture and increasing awareness about responsible drug disposal, we can mitigate these risks and contribute to a healthier and cleaner future for our communities. It's time to take action and do our part in safeguarding our environment and well-being.