Is your medicine cabinet full of expired drugs or medications you no longer use? You may even have leftover medications from your pet’s past surgeries or illnesses. Having unused prescription medications around is dangerous: it can cause accidental poisoning, misuse, and overdose.
Proper disposal of unused drugs saves lives and protects the environment.
The FDA has released some guidelines with best practices for disposing of unused medications. This guide is helpful both for human and veterinary medications. The best way to dispose of your expired, unwanted, or unused medicines is through a drug take back program — or you can do it at home. Below is some information taken from the FDA page.
Medication Disposal Options
Follow any specific disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanies the medicine. Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
While in most cases drugs should never be flushed down the drain, there are some medications – Fentanyl patches for example – that SHOULD be flushed due to the danger they pose if children or pets come into contact with the used patches.
find medication disposal and take-back programs in your community
Use this search tool to find a controlled substance public disposal location near you.
Contact the following local resources to see if they sponsor or recommend any disposal sites or take-back programs near you:
- local pharmacies
- your local law enforcement agency or police department
- your city’s household trash & recycling service
Always transfer unused medicines to collectors registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Permanent collection sites may be retail, hospital or clinic pharmacies, and law enforcement locations. Some offer mail-back programs or collection receptacles (drop-boxes). Visit the DEA’s website or call the DEA Diversion Control Division Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539.
How to dispose of Medications in the Trash
If no disposal instructions are given on the prescription drug labeling and no take-back programs are available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash following these steps:
- Remove them from their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds, dirt, or kitty litter. This makes the drug less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through the trash seeking drugs.
- Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
Safety Considerations & Medication Disposal Tips
FDA’s Ilisa Bernstein, Pharm.D., J.D., offers a few more tips:
- Scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.
- Do not give your medicine to friends. Doctors prescribe medicines based on your specific symptoms and medical history. Something that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.
- When in doubt about proper disposal, ask your pharmacist.
Bernstein says the same disposal methods for prescription drugs could apply to over-the-counter drugs as well. More information can be found here.
Written by: Sommer Aweidah