If your medicine cabinet is full of old, unused and expired medications, it’s time for a clean sweep. That’s because old meds can become less effective, fall into the wrong hands (like the grandchildren’s) or poison a pet. But it’s not a good idea to just toss the pills in the trash or flush them. There are important safeguards you should follow when disposing of medications—to protect yourself, your family and potentially even the environment. (Nobody wants meds in their water supply!) So here’s your quick and simple guide for proper medication disposal.
Option 1: Find a Drop Box
The best medication-disposal option is to look for a medicine take-back program: Some communities provide drop-off locations for unused medications. Often these are police stations, pharmacies or hospitals with drop boxes.
Check with your local law enforcement or waste disposal authorities to see if there’s such a take-back program in your city. Or visit the Drug Enforcement Administration website and search for a controlled substance public disposal location near you.
Option 2: Follow the Label
If you can’t drop old medications off at an approved center, follow any disposal directions on your prescription label. But before throwing away the medicine container itself, destroy personal information on the label to protect your identity: Either peel off the label and rip it up, or scratch out identifying information with a dark pen or marker.
Option 3: Ruin and Dispose
When no disposal instructions are included, for most medicines, you can follow these guidelines:
1. Mix the medication with a household trash substance, such as kitty litter or coffee grounds, and a little water. This conceals the medicine and makes it taste bad so that it’s not tempting to children and pets. Doing so also helps keeps the med from people who go through trash looking for drugs.
2. Place the mixture in a sealable container, such as a baggie or empty can.
3. Toss in the household trash.
Another medication-disposal option is to flush the drugs down the toilet or sink. But there are concerns that this method could allow the medicines to make their way into the environment or the city water supply, harming fish or people. So for most drugs, the Food and Drug Administration recommends against flushing. However, that guideline doesn’t hold true for all meds.
Certain medications are especially dangerous to children and pets because ingesting even very low doses can be harmful or fatal to them. That’s one reason the FDA does recommend flushing some meds, such as certain prescription pain relievers. Visit the FDA website for an updated list of drugs that should go down the drain.
Whatever medication-disposal technique you choose, keep these don’t-do guidelines in mind as well:
• Don’t open capsules or crush pills unless they’re in a strong, sealed bag. If you touch or inhale the powder, you could absorb or breathe in dangerously large amounts of medication. Others in your household could be exposed too.
• Don’t give in to the temptation to let someone else have your leftover prescription medications. The meds could have serious side effects or interact with other medicines the person might be taking. Even if the person is already prescribed the same medication you have, your meds could be old and less effective—or the wrong dosage.
• Don’t ignore your doctor’s advice. Take medications as prescribed, and don’t cut a prescription short without your doctor’s OK. Following professional medical advice will give you a better health outcome, not to mention reduce the amount of unfinished medicine in need of disposal.
When used properly, prescription medication can make you feel better when you’re sick, help you manage a chronic condition, or prevent you from developing disease. But leaving half-used prescription meds cluttering the medicine cabinet can result in accidental misuse, overdose, and unintentional ingestion by children and pets. Keeping leftover drugs could even lead to medication abuse if older kids find the meds in the cabinet.
All of this is why disposing of medications, properly, is crucial. When in doubt, ask your pharmacist the best method of medication disposal that will safeguard yourself, the environment, and your loved ones.