There was a time when public health agencies advised Americans to get rid of their unwanted medication by flushing them down the toilet. But now, because trace amounts of drugs have begun turning up in our drinking water, lakes and streams, that recommendation has changed.

The SMARxT public service campaign urges people to be kinder to the environment. Now, when you toss your leftover or expired pills and syrups, you should pour them into a sealable plastic bag. (If the medication is a pill or capsule, dissolve it in water first.) Then, add kitty litter or used coffee grounds to the bag before tossing it in the household trash. The granules will absorb the liquid and make it less attractive to pets and small children. Finally, to prevent identity theft, remove and destroy personal information from medicine bottles before recycling.

One caveat: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that certain medications, including some opioid painkillers, should still be flushed down the toilet. The FDA recommends the following medications be flushed down the toilet instead of thrown in the trash:

   fentanyl citrate (Actiq)
   methylphenidate (Daytrana) transdermal patch
   fentanyl (Duragesic) transdermal system
   oxycodone (OxyContin) tablets
   morphine sulfate (Avinza) capsules
   entecavir (Baraclude) tablets  
   atazanavir sulfate (Reyataz) capsules
   gatifloxacin (Tequin) tablets
   stavudine (Zerit) for oral solution
   meperidine HCl tablets
   oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet)
   sodium oxybate (Xyrem)  
   fentanyl buccal tablet (Fentora)  

For more on how to dispose of drugs, visit the SMARxT  Disposal campaign’s Web site.