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How to get rid of old prescription drugs

Apr 18, 2022, 07:00 AM

April 30 is National Drug Take-back Day. It’s a time to get rid of any old drugs or medicines that you have in your home that you aren’t using anymore. There are many reasons why you should get rid of drugs you aren’t using. And for some drugs, simply throwing them in the garbage or flushing them down the toilet is not an option.

Why should I get rid of my expired, unused or unwanted prescription drugs?

There are several reasons why you want to get rid of expired drugs

  • To prevent accidental overdose or misuse
  • To prevent any children or animals from being harmed or poisoned
  • To avoid confusion with any current prescriptions you are taking

A majority of misused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, often from the home medicine cabinet. With proper disposal of prescription drugs, you can help prevent drug addiction and overdose deaths. 

Where can I take my old medicine?

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors National Prescription Drug Take Back Day twice each year, in April and October. The next one is April 30. DEA take back days do not just take back controlled substances- all medications can be taken back.

You can find a location to take your drugs by visiting the DEA website at dea.gov/takebackday#collection-locator 

What if I can’t make it to Drug Take Back Day but still want to get rid of my drugs?

If you cannot make it to an authorized site on April 30, don’t worry. Many sites offer year-round disposal. Start with your local pharmacy. Ask them if they have a takeback program.

You can check the list here to see if your pharmacy is listed, or to find one close to you. 

How can I safely dispose of my prescription drugs without leaving home?

If you cannot get out of the house to get rid of your drugs, there are a couple of ways to get rid of them from home.

Flushing medicines

Some medicines could be very harmful to others if they fall into the wrong hands. There are some drugs that have specific directions to immediately flush them down the sink or toilet when they are no longer needed.

Check the label or the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. Or, if you don’t have that information handy, consult the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing when a take back option is not readily available. For the sake of the environment, don’t flush your medicine unless it is on the flush list.

Disposing of medicines in household trash

If medication take back programs are not available, and/or your drugs are not on the flush list (see above), some medicines can be thrown into your household trash. These include prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs in pills, liquids, drops, patches, and creams.

Follow these steps to get rid of drugs by trash:

  • Remove the drugs from their original containers and put them in a sealable plastic bag (Ziploc), empty can with a lid or another container that won’t leak or spill
  • Mix them with something like used coffee grounds, dirt, or cat litter. This disguises the medicine, making it unrecognizable to children, pets and anybody sifting through your trash looking for drugs
  • Put the container in the garbage and try to bury it down deep so it isn’t visible
  • Try to remove the label or scratch out all your personal information on the empty medicine packaging to protect your identity and privacy. Throw the packaging away, or recycle anything that can be recycled (like plastic containers)

More helpful drug information

  • Check expiration dates on the drugs in your medicine cabinet once or twice each year. Not only is expired medication disposal a good habit to get into, but you want to have medications work when you need them
  • When your doctor changes your medication dose, that’s a good time to take any older or leftover medicine out of your medicine cabinet and get rid of it
  • People with frequent medication changes can end up with lots of unused medications in the house. That can be confusing for anyone because sometimes meds look alike
  • If you have questions about your prescriptions, talk with your pharmacist or your primary care provider during your annual comprehensive medication review

Sources:

dea.gov/takebackday

apps.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubdispsearch/spring/main;jsessionid=nkaA1YO5uF--1HVBbblBbAAg2WyRrgKjYxiZvYMJ.web1?execution=e1s1

fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/where-and-how-dispose-unused-medicines