In the midst of all the debate about environmental issues, we are too often distracted by the hot button climate change. Yet controlling carbon emissions is only one of many different concerns about how we live our lives and the impact our lifestyles have on our environment. If we are to hand over a habitable planet to our children, we have to start thinking about every aspect of the systems currently in use and how we might make them safer. One of the less obvious questions is how we dispose of our unwanted drugs. There are a number of quite different issues. One day, you open the bathroom cabinet and find unexpected rows of half-empty bottles and packs of pills, all of which have passed their use-by dates. For a moment, you pause and wonder whether you should do something. Then your eye catches the toothbrush and life goes on for another month or so.
Well, the statistics are interesting. In some parts of the country, more people accidentally poison themselves, become hooked on addictive drugs or die of drug overdoses than die in traffic accidents. That should give you pause for thought. The number of deaths from traffic accidents is already an epidemic but, when you collect the statistics from emergency departments around the country, one of the largest groups of people admitted for treatment is suffering drug-related problems. Children are common admissions. Instead of having lockable cabinets, parents store drugs in places easily accessible by children and family members, friends and neighbors with addiction problems. Children are often tempted by brightly colored pills, thinking them candy. Adults can raid your stash of unwanted drugs to feed their addiction. But how should you dispose of these pills?
The temptation is to flush them away. Except this dumps a cocktail of drugs into the sewers that drain into our rivers and seas. Downstream, the water is drawn out by another city or town but the water purification plants cannot remove all these chemicals. The result is that the downstream population consumes a dilute mixture of your drugs. Fish and animals you might eat also drink the water, treated and untreated, so there’s a big circle of life with drugs recycling through the food chain.
That’s why it’s important for every town and city to have a safe disposal system. The best are run by local police departments which offer lock-boxes at strategic locations around every neighborhood. These allow anonymous deposits and deter all but the most determined of addicts. The drugs can then be disposed of safely, usually by incineration at high temperatures. So if you want to reduce temptation and prevent accidents, you should dispose of all your drugs as soon as you have finished the course of treatment. Although painkillers like tramadol hcl are not abused, there should be a general shift in culture to ensure all medications do not end up as part of the cocktail of chemicals in our drinking water or the food we eat. If you do buy tramadol to keep a painkiller in reserve, you should store it in a lockable cabinet to reduce the chances of accidental poisoning or overdose. With children about, you used to worry about keeping liquor in the house. Prescription drugs are far more dangerous.