Resources & Education

April 11th, 2017

How to Properly Dispose of Medications

Dispose of medicine

Peek inside your medicine cabinet.

Now dig toward the back. How man bottles of expired prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications do you have in there? How long ago did they expire? If you have inadvertently been storing outdated or unnecessary medications, you’re not alone. It can be easy to forget about prescribed or OTC medications once we’re finally feeling well again after an illness. However, proper disposal of medications is critical to the health and safety of your loved ones, including your children and pets.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), over 20,000 overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2015 alone that were related to prescription pain relievers. A U.S. government report indicates that more than 70 percent of people who first misuse prescription drugs get them from their friends, their relatives, or simply take them without asking, which means those unused prescription painkillers in the back of your medicine cabinet could put your loved ones at risk. To ensure you are properly, and safely disposing of expired, or unused medications, review our safe disposal dos and do nots below.

Dos and Do Nots

Do: Find a community-based drug “take back” program in your community. Such programs are the safest way to dispose of medications.

Do Not: Dispose of inhalers or aerosol products by throwing them into a fire or incinerator. Rather, contact your local trash and recycling facility to identify safe disposal options in your community.

Do: Research trash and recycling services in your community. Contact your city or county to learn about medication disposal options and guidelines for your area.

Do Not: Flush any medications down the sink or toilet unless instructed to do so by the packaging instructions or accompanying patient literature.

Do: Review the disposal instructions on the back of each medication’s packaging or in the accompanying patient literature. Some medications, such as adhesives, like the fentanyl patch, have specific disposal requirements that should be strictly adhered to for your safety and the safety of everyone in your household. An up-to-date list of medications recommended for disposal by flushing can be found on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FSA) website.

Do: Take unused medicines to collectors registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) such as designated retail locations, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and law enforcement locations. Some may offer mail-back programs or easily accessible drop-boxes. Visit the DEA’s website for more information.

Do: Throw medication in the trash when no better alternative is available, however, be sure to follow these instructions:

Do: Remove the medication from its original container and mix it with an undesirable substance, such as kitty litter, to inhibit children, pets, or adults searching trash bins from consuming the pills if found.

Do Not: Dispose of the created mixture directly in a trash can. Instead, place it in a sealed bag or other container to prevent the drug from breaking out of the garbage bag.

Do: Use a marker or pen to cover prescription label details to discourage anyone who finds the empty medication bottle from seeking out the pills that were inside. This step also protects your privacy and personal health information.

Do: Follow these same disposal guidelines for both prescribed and OTC medications.

Do Not: Share medication with friends or family members. Doctors dispense medications at the individual level, based on the patient’s age, weight, health history, and specific health needs. Sharing prescribed medications with other could have serious, and potentially fatal, consequences.

Do: Ask your pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns about the proper disposal of your expired or unused medications.

Remember, that many teens find substances to abuse right in their own homes. Always keep Rx prescriptions locked up and stored away.

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