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Tips On Disposing Old Prescription Medication

Many people hoard expired and useless medicines in their medicine cabinets simply because they have no idea how to get rid of them. They continue to gather medicines as their drawers and cabinets overflow. According to a survey conducted in 2017 by Consumer Reports, one-third of Americans have not cleaned their medicine cabinets in a year, while one-fifth have not done so in five years. This means that there are approximately 200 million pounds of useless, untouched medications piling up every year.

Even though this may seem innocent and simply disorganized, not disposing of old prescription medication can be dangerous for pets, children, and other people searching for drugs. This is especially true for opioids, as if someone else, apart from the patient, gets a hold of this medicine, there can be serious consequences. Moreover, expired medication does not remain effective either.

As long as you are consuming medicine for its prescribed purpose during a certain time frame, it is safe to keep around the house. Getting rid of such medications keeps your children and pets safe and reduces the possibility of someone else intentionally misusing them.

Here are some ways you can dispose of old prescription medication:


“Take Back” Drug Programs

The best way to get rid of old medication is through prescription take-back drug programs. You can either opt for periodic events or permanent collection sites if you choose this disposal method.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors this program when temporary collection sites are organized nationwide. You’ll find many local law enforcement agencies that have their own programs to take back drugs. Many pharmacies also provide disposal kiosks. If you want to find out more about such programs in your region, get in touch with your city government.

However, take-back drug programs do not take any sharp objects, like syringes and needles. If you want to get rid of these sharps, place them in FDA-approved containers so that they do not unintentionally harm anyone.

Throw Prescription Medication Away

It is no secret that most medicines can be thrown away with your household trash. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medication, such as pills, liquids, inhalers, creams, drops, and patches. Here are some tips that the FDA provides for safe disposal of medicines:

  • Get rid of the original containers and mix the medicine with something old and bad-smelling, such as dirt or dog litter. Do not break tablets or crush pills. This ensures that these medications will not be consumed by children or pets and may even be hidden from people who look through the trash searching for drugs.
  • In case of a mixture, get a sealable pouch such as a zipper bag or an old jam bottle and place the liquid inside.
  • Dispose of the container with your home trash.
  • Before you get rid of prescription medication, make sure to take a black marker and scribble out your personal information. This helps protect your identity. Then, get rid of the medication by mixing it with your household rubbish.

You can also find drug deactivation bags that make medication useless, ensuring that they are safe for the surrounding environment.  You can look for these are your local pharmacy or even in online stores. If you’re lucky, you may find some local drug coalitions giving these for free till they run out.

Flushing Medication

A few substances provide instructions to flush the medication down the toilet or wash them up in the sink when they are no longer useful or when no other option is available. These medications are harmful, and there can be serious consequences if they are used by anyone other than the patient. Hence, flushing them immediately will prevent anyone else from ingesting these dangerous substances.

However, if you do not know which medication falls into the flush category, all you need to do is take a look at the prescription label or the medicine label with the disposal instructions. You can also find some information on the FDA site or give your local pharmacist a call.

If the medication you want to dispose of has opioids or any other potent ingredient, it is best not to flush them. Instead, take them to collection sites. Wastewater facilities are not advanced enough to get rid of pharmaceutical substances, so these could contaminate the water.

Storing Medication

Unintentional poisoning is common in children due to the accidental consumption of prescription medication. Estimates show that 60,000 ER visits and 450,000 calls to poison centers are made in the United States every year when children under the age of six ingest medication when they are not supervised. Child-resistant containers have proved useless in the past. It is best to keep prescription, over-the-counter, and dietary supplements away from children. Do not store them in handbags, tote bags, or even suitcases.

We would advise you always to keep track of your medication. Count the pills each day. Only keep the medication you need at home. Never allow anyone to take your prescription medication, and don’t use anyone else’s. Children under the age of 18 should not be given opioids for any reason. Do not keep drugs longer than necessary, as this puts children and pets at risk. Get rid of unused medication soon to reduce the risk of death and emergencies.

To be safe, always have a naloxone overdose reversal kit kept somewhere at home, just as you would have a first aid kit or fire extinguisher kept handy.


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