NEW YORK (AP) — Walgreen Co. said Thursday it will begin selling special envelopes to shoppers to help them dispose of medications they no longer need.
Starting Friday, the drugstore operator said, customers can buy a special envelope at pharmacies for $2.99, and use it to mail in unused or expired prescription or over-the-counter drugs. The envelopes can be dropped into any U.S. Postal Service mailbox, and the contents will be mailed directly to a medical incinerator facility. They will be received by law enforcement officials, and then burned.
Controlled substances such as morphine will be excluded from the program because they cannot legally be sent through the mail.
The ashes will be used to make building materials and will not go to a landfill, the company said. That would prevent the drugs from entering the water supply.
The incinerator facilities are run by medical waste manager Sharps Compliance Corp. Walgreen said Sharps estimates that more than 200 million pounds of medications are improperly disposed of every year.
On Saturday the Drug Enforcement Administration held Take Back Day, offering patients the chance to turn in unused medications at about 4,100 sites around the country. The DEA said it was its first program to collect unwanted and expired medications nationwide.
Walgreen, of Deerfield, Ill., said it has participated in similar events in the past.
Medication disposal has become a prominent issue in recent years. In 2008, an Associated Press investigation found minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals in the water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas, partly because they were flushed down the toilet by patients or workers at hospitals and long-term care facilities.
A review of instructions that come with hundreds of prescription medications showed that patients are rarely told how to safely dispose of their medications. The Food and Drug Administration publishes a list of drugs that are safe to flush down the toilet, but says "disposal by flushing is not recommended for the vast majority of medicines." The FDA website says most medications should be disposed of by mixing them with unpalatable garbage such as coffee grounds, and sealing them in a container.
The FDA says patients should consult prescribing information and the web to get more details on how to dispose of their medications. The agency says most medicines in the water supply are there as a result of use and normal excretion, not improper disposal.