Improper disposal of prescription drugs can put people and homeowners association at risk

Question: I live in a large leisure-type community where the average age is over 55. Recently we discovered odd medicinal odors coming from green belt areas and the community vegetable garden. We learned that some residents refuse to throw out old medication and instead sprinkle it throughout the grounds thinking they are recycling. At first this was not readily noticeable, but as more residents participated, it turned into a huge problem.

Other owners are flushing these prescriptions down the toilet or placing them near storm drains to be flushed into the system; they don't leave prescription bottles so we can't identify who is doing this. What can we do about this serious problem?


Answer: Medications are not recyclable! There are proper ways to dispose of unused over-the-counter and prescription medications. The Department of Public Works warns that unused medications shouldn't be flushed down the toilet or drains because doing so harms the environment. Medication travels from the toilet or drain through the sewer system and to our streams, lakes and rivers.

Unused over-the-counter and prescription medications do not help flowers grow. It is extremely dangerous to throw medication among vegetable plants in the garden as they can be absorbed into the soil and the plants, causing serious health problems to those who eat the vegetables. Medication that's buried in dirt or thrown onto grassy areas is then exposed to the elements, dissolves and gets absorbed into the ecosystem. Once the medication disintegrates into the ground, it can infiltrate water systems and contaminate wells, harming people or animals coming in contact with that disposal site.

The board should bring the situation up during an open meeting and make the information part of its minutes that are distributed to all residents.

The Department of Public Works explains that because medications have been detected in small amounts in surface water bodies, there is a major concern of increased bacterial resistance to antibiotics and interference with growth and reproduction in aquatic organisms.

Additionally, improper disposal of medication and drugs can be dangerous and can also create a liability for the association. This even includes vitamins.

Take all unused medications to a household hazardous waste collection center or event; or drop off unwanted medications at a designated sheriff's station. The proper way to dispose of unused medications is to place them in a sturdy, securely sealed container, then in a trash can where children and animals can't reach them.

There are drop-off events free of charge in nearly every county. They are located throughout Los Angeles County. To view a schedule of events, visit

You can also bring them to the Antelope Valley Environmental Collection Center or any of the permanent centers operated by the city of Los Angeles.

Prescription drugs such as hormones (birth control pills, estrogen replacement drugs, etc.), over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) and cold/flu remedies, antiseptics (germ killing liquids) and veterinary medicines must be disposed of carefully as they can be dangerous in the wrong hands. For more information contact

For privacy reasons, owners should always remove prescription labels, shred them, then discard empty containers in the trash.

Zachary Levine, a partner at Wolk & Levine, a business and intellectual property law firm, co-wrote this column. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and mediator. Send questions to Donie Vanitzian, JD, P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or