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Safe Medication Disposal: Know Before You Throw

Safe Medication Disposal: Know Before You Throw

By Kimberly Tran, PharmD

What to do with a cluttered medicine cabinet?

Expired medications may not work effectively and should not be taken. Prescription medications that were originally prescribed for you should not be shared with anyone else. And having unused or expired medications laying around, especially in the same area as medications you are currently taking, can cause confusion and lead to accidental ingestion.

The best course of action is to dispose of all unused and expired medications.

But how?


Drug Take-Back Programs

There are numerous drug take-back sites in the community that can be accessed year-round, and most provide an on-site medicine drop-off box that you can use to safely and securely discard unused or expired medications. All medications dropped off at these take back locations will be destroyed.

For example, pharmacies such as Walgreens or CVS often have drop-off bins located near the pharmacy area where you can simply walk in and drop off most medications. Other authorized collection sites may include clinic pharmacies and local law enforcement facilities, such as the Sarasota Police Department.

To find a drug take-back site near you visit this website.

Remember to remove all personal information on pill bottle labels and packaging prior to disposing!

What About Needles?

Of note, take-back sites do not accept used or unused needles. For more information on disposing of needles and other “sharps,” contact the local waste department or health department to determine the correct disposal method for your area. You can also visit this website to find a local sharps disposal site.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Days

This nationwide event occurs twice a year, in both April and October. In addition to the year-round disposal sites, additional sites are set up throughout the community to provide a safe and convenient way to dispose of all unused or expired prescription drugs.

Learn more about National Prescription Drug Take Back Days here.

Safely Disposing of Medication at Home

Taking advantage of local drug-take back sites is the best way to safely dispose of prescription and nonprescription medicines. If there is not an easily accessible site near you, there are ways to safely dispose of mediations from home, as long as necessary precautions are taken when doing so.

Don’t Rush to Flush

Not all medications can be flushed down the toilet.

To minimize the environmental and water contamination risk, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published a flush list that includes medications that can be flushed. These are generally drugs that have a potential for abuse or can easily result in death if taken inappropriately or ingested accidentally by children, pets, and even adults. Flushing medications is not a preferred method of disposal but can be an option if you don't have a drug take back location near you.

Only flush medications that are on the flush list.

Don’t Dash to Trash

Most prescription and over-the-counter drugs that come in a pill, liquid, drop, cream, or patch form can be thrown into household trash. However, it is not as simple as just tossing your medications into the trash bin. There are a few steps you can take to ensure safe disposal of drugs at home.

First, remove the drugs from their original containers and mix them with coffee grounds, dirt, or cat litter. This makes the medications more unrecognizable and unappealing to children, pets, and those who go through trash seeking drugs. Next, put the mixture into a sealable bag or container to prevent leakage prior to throwing in the trashcan. Lastly, scratch out all personal information that may be on empty medication bottles prior to disposing of those as well.

Important Resources

FDA Flush List: Medications that can be safely flushed.

Find a local drug collection site via Google Maps or the official DEA registry.

Learn more about National Prescription Drug Take Back Days.