If you are having the urge to purge your medicine cabinet of those bottles and plastic containers of old and possibly expired drugs, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, and provincial health and pharmacy association officials reminded the public there's a prescription for getting it done safely.
Brodie was on hand Monday in Vancouver to help spread the word of an existing, province-wide drug disposal program called BC's Medications Return Program that allows the public to dispose of the drugs - prescription medications, over-the-counter oral dosage items and natural health products - in a safe manner at their local pharmacy at no cost.
Brodie, who is also Chair of Metro Vancouver's Zero Waste Committee, said roughly 90 per cent of B.C. pharmacies support the program, which has been in place since 2008.
According to the Post Consumer Pharmaceutical Stewardship Association, before the BC Pharmacy Association and Metro Vancouver launched the public awareness campaign five years ago, less than 18,000 kilograms of medications were returned to pharmacies in the region.
That rose to more than 36,000 kilograms of medications in 2012.
So, efforts are improving the situation, and that's good news for the environment since all the returned medications are incinerated by a professional disposal company.
"If you drop them (drugs) into the garbage can, if they get into the landfill, of course they stay in the landfill," Brodie said. "And you could be causing a problem now or decades into the future."
The same goes with flushing the drugs down the toilet.
"You get trace amounts that go through the waste treatment plants and out into the rivers and ocean. So, that would affect the aquatic environment and marine life," he added.
Safe disposal also increases drug safety in a home.
"Expired medication can pose serious health risks to individuals if not disposed of properly," said Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid in a press release about the program.
While some drug users are already careful about how they dispose of old medications, there is one important thing all consumers can do to cut down on the build up of expired medications, and that's to always finish their medications completely, if prescribed to do so by their doctor.
All too often, patients either forget to complete their prescribed doses in the time allotted, or start to feel healthier before finishing the drugs and don't realize the need to finish them, said Kenny Choi, pharmacist at the Terra Nova location of Save-On-Foods, one of the pharmacies taking part in the disposal program.
"Another common reason is when people start on a new therapy, instead of getting a small supply to try for a month or a couple of weeks they get the full amount from their doctor - two, maybe three months worth of drugs," Choi said.
"And if the medication ends up not agreeing with the patient, they stop taking it, then end up wasting a lot of it."
More information on the Medications Return Program can be found at www.medicationsreturn.ca.