Do you have expired or unused prescription medicines in your medicine cabinet? You might even have bottles stacked behind other bottles, taking up space. Your first instinct may be to toss the old drugs in the trash or flush them down the toilet. But is there a safer way to get rid of these unwanted medicines?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) created the following guidelines for consumers. These guidelines were designed to keep people, animals, and the environment safe.
Step One: Read the Drug Label
First, read the drug label or patient information that is packaged with the medicine. Here, you may find specific information regarding disposal. It is important that you do not flush the medicine down the toilet unless the instructions tell you to do so. This is because drug residues can end up in the water systems—streams, rivers, lakes, and drinking water reservoirs.
In fact, there are only a few medicines, like the narcotics oxycodone and fentanyl that should be flushed. This is because these drugs are highly addictive. It is safer to keep these medicines out of the trash and away from people who may abuse them.
Step Two: Dispose or Drop Off
What if the medicine label does not have specific instructions for disposal? You have a couple of options:
- Disposing of the medicine in your trash
- Dropping off your medicine at a drug take-back program
You can throw away expired or unused medicine in the trash. First you will have to “prepare” the medicine so that it will be in a safer form. These instructions apply to both pills and liquids.
- Remove the medicine from its original bottle. Mix the drugs with something that would make them unappealing to people or pets who may go through the trash. You can use kitty litter or used coffee grounds.
- Next, place the medicine in a plastic bag with a seal or in a container with a lid. The goal is to make sure that the medicine does not spill out of this packaging. You can also use tape to further secure the bag or container.
- Do not forget about the original bottle that the medicine came in. Your privacy is important. Remove the label or use a black marker to hide your name and any other information. Before placing the bottle in the trash, check to see if it has a recycling code on the bottom. If it does and your city or town’s recycling program accepts this type of plastic, place the bottle in your recycling bin.
Drug Take-Back Program
Some communities offer take-back programs where you can drop off your medicines at a designated location. Websites like The Drug Take-Back Network provide information on programs in the United States. Visit your state’s government website to learn more, or call your city or town’s waste removal and recycling departments.
Would you also like to get rid of old over-the-counter (OTC) medicines from your cabinet? You can apply the same trash disposal steps to OTC drugs. Remember, too, that you can always ask your pharmacist for advice about medicine disposal and whether the pharmacy has a take-back program.
Safety with medicine does not just end when you are feeling healthier. You can ensure the safety of people, pets, and the environment by carefully disposing of your drugs.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 08/2011 -
- Update Date: 08/19/2011 -