By Dan Schulte, J.D.
MDA Legal Counsel
From the August 2008 issue of the Journal
Question: I am cleaning out my office and have several containers of drugs that are now past the expiration date. Can I just flush them down the toilet or put them down the drain?
Can you tell me if there a Michigan or federal law that regulates the disposal of drugs?
Answer: Michigan’s Public Health Code contains several sections addressing the labeling, dispensing and storage of drugs. However, there is no specific provision regulating the disposal of drugs.
Michigan’s Medical Waste Regulatory Act (MCL 333.13801 et. seq.) defines medical waste to include only: (1) cultures and stocks of infectious agents and associated biologicals, including laboratory waste, biological production wastes, etc; (2) liquid human and animal waste, including blood and blood products and body fluids, etc.; (3) pathological waste; (4) sharps; and (5) contaminated waste from animals that have been exposed to agents infectious to humans. Expired drugs are not included and therefore are not regulated by this act (which contains detailed requirements for the disposal of medical waste).
Other statutes outside of the Public Health Code that may be applicable to the disposal of drugs are those dealing with the disposal of hazardous and/or toxic waste. Lists and tables of what is considered to be hazardous and/or toxic are included in Michigan’s Administrative Code. These lists incorporate by reference federal statutes and regulations containing similar lists and tables. These lists are much too lengthy to be summarized in this column. Drugs themselves may not be specifically identified as hazardous or toxic. However, some of the compounds and substances contained within the drugs you have in your office may be included on one of these lists. Therefore, disposal of these drugs would be subject to this complex set of regulations.
Fortunately, Michigan Administrative Code Rule 299.9205 contains an exemption for small disposers of hazardous and/or toxic waste. In order to be eligible for the exemption you must generate less than 100 kg of hazardous (or 1 kg of toxic) waste in a calendar month. Most dental offices will fit within this exemption. You should consider this exemption when deciding how large your inventory of these drugs is going to be on a monthly basis.
Since the Medical Waste Regulatory Act does not apply to the disposal of your expired drugs and the Michigan statutes regulating the disposal of hazardous and/or toxic waste likely will not apply, it would not be illegal under state law for you to dispose of these drugs by flushing them down the toilet or putting them down the drain (it would be advisable to check local ordinances for restrictions). This is not, however, the only method of disposing of these expired drugs. A preferred method of disposal would be to return the expired drugs to the manufacturer or distributor. Presumably, the manufacturer or distributor will have the ability to reuse or dispose of the expired drugs in a way that will keep them out of the sewer system and therefore not impact the environment.
There are also so-called "reverse distributors" that deal in the control and disposal of expired drugs. Another alternative would be to safely store the expired drugs until there is a properly licensed hazardous waste collection organized in your community.