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How to Safely Dispose of Unused Prescription Medications


The dangers of dumping unused medications

Keeping our homes clean and safe from harmful chemicals is something that is always top of mind. Sometimes, while cleaning out cabinets or drawers, however, you might discover expired prescription medications that you forgot about long ago or simply no longer use.

drugs1The National Community Pharmacist Association (NCPA) estimates that 200 million pounds of medicine are thrown away each year from U.S. households. Some prescription medications have guidelines for safely disposing of them to help reduce harm from accidental exposure or misuse, once they’re no longer needed.

If your medication doesn’t have proper-disposal instructions, your first inclination might be to just pour it down the sink or flush it down the toilet, but it turns out that may be extremely harmful to our water supply.

If you dump your expired or unused prescription medications down your drains, they may leach into the surrounding soil and groundwater. Even as water goes through a series of water treatment plants, those plants may not be equipped to filter out medication that’s contaminating the water, meaning it could likely enter your drinking water supply.

So what’s the best way to dispose of old or unused prescription medications?

According to the EPA, one of the best ways to safely dispose of unused prescription medications is to properly secure them for trash collection. Here are a few tips on how to do this effectively:

no_1Take your medication out of the original containers, and make sure to remove any labels with your personal information on it.

no_2Mix the medication with a substance like cat litter, soil or used coffee grounds to help deter other people and animals from tampering with it.

no_3Place the mixture into a sealable bag or disposable container with a lid so it doesn’t leak in your garbage bag, and take your trash out immediately.

Another option for disposing of your unused prescription medications is to participate in a local community prescription drug take-back event. These events are designed to provide a convenient, responsible and safe method for disposing of your old or unused prescription drugs, while also educating communities about the potential for prescription medication abuse or misuse.

For more information about how to safely dispose your unused prescription medication, check out this guide from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

How do you dispose of your expired prescription medications? Please feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comment section below!

Care2: How to Safely Dispose of Old Prescriptions
FDA: How to Dispose of Unused Medicines
NPR: Trash Can May Be Greenest Option For Unused Drugs

Did you know about the dangers of flushing medications?

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6 years ago

Thank you for all the work you do to keep us informed…

Tracey Parker
Tracey Parker(@traceymparker)
6 years ago
Reply to  Gina

That was worth sharing.

6 years ago

This is a topic that hits very close to home for me. I am a home health nurse and am constantly being asked about how to dispose of old medications. People do want to help the environment! In the city I live, there is a “medication waste receptacle” in the lobby of our local police department that disposes of old medications. Such a great resource, I hope we don’t lose it. We recommend the same, putting medications in kitty litter and pouring water over it before putting in trash. Some CVS/Walgreens have envelopes that you can purchase for $5 to $10 bucks (theres the kicker–no one wants to spend money) that you can fill as many old meds you can fill in the pre addressed and postage paid envelope and mail it to a disposal company. I recently requested a sample from a company that actually is a biodegradable plastic? that you put as many medications you can in there and there is a charcoal substance that “deactivates” the medication—-seems very promising. Again, the cost is what keeps everyone from… Read more »

Vicki Graczyk
Vicki Graczyk(@vgraczyk)
6 years ago

Thank for the info. Valuable information.

Evelyn Margerison
Evelyn Margerison(@philandev5hotmail-com)
6 years ago

I once read that a woman decided to clean out her medicine cabinet and dumped all sorts of expired medications, including antibiotics, down her toilet. A short time later her septic froze.Turns out the antibiotics killed off the bacteria in her septic necessary to keep it running. Since reading that I have it a point to take all expired medicines to our local pharmacy who disposes of it free of charge.

6 years ago

Thanks for sharing your good advice, Evelyn. According to http://www.sublettewyo.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/66, “Many chemicals can kill the bacteria that help breakdown the solids in your tank. Chemicals such as strong acids, drain cleaners, solvents, or old antibiotics/medicines can be harmful to your [septic] system.”

Hope Beach
Hope Beach(@hbeach)
6 years ago

That is kinda funny….but not really!

De Swanick
De Swanick(@deswan)
6 years ago

Great info! Had no idea about the dangers of flushing!

Stephanie Cosgrove
Stephanie Cosgrove(@seac14)
6 years ago

Where we live you can take your unused/expired medication to any pharmacy for proper disposal. Our community also does hazardous waste days and medication days (take your hazardous waste/medications to designated drop off locations for it to be safely disposed of by the county).

Hope Beach
Hope Beach(@hbeach)
6 years ago

I have a bad habit of throwing them in the trash but never down the toilet anymore. I also use essential oils for everything now so I only have a few left in my house. I’ll remember to wet them now or put them inside something first.

6 years ago
Reply to  Hope Beach

That’s great, Hope! Thanks for your commitment to keeping potentially harmful chemicals out of the water supply and disposing of them safely.

Jen Haralson
Jen Haralson(@jharalson)
5 years ago

This is such good info, thank you!!

Heather Wiese
Heather Wiese(@heather)
4 years ago

Some pharmacies will take in old or expired medications. Give them a call and ask!

Gingi Freeman
Gingi Freeman(@domesticgeekgirl)
4 years ago

Good info!

Nancy Padulsky
Nancy Padulsky(@npadulsky)
3 months ago

I wondered if these articles are updated, however, when I clicked on FDA info, I see 4/2021…so I assume the article information is updated!? Or, at least the corresponding clickable links are updated?!? Thank you.

3 months ago
Reply to  Nancy Padulsky

Hi Nancy, while we try to provide only the most up to date information and sources available at the time of publication, sometimes the information does become outdated. Glad to see the US FDA updates their info.

Nicole Briand
Nicole Briand(@nicolebriand)
2 months ago

Most pharmacies will take back unused prescription meds.to dispose of as well.

Jeanette West
Jeanette West(@mrsjrwest)
1 month ago

As a senior foster care provider, we end up with medications for disposal much more often then others do. Thankfully, we have a medication drop off site that we can use. Also, our local Hospice (though public health) has also developed a disposal pouch that will change the chemical structure of meds so that they will not be usable.