Tips for disposing of expired and unused medications

Ginger Ducharme
Certified Pharmacy Technician

Prescription medicine bottlesIs your medicine cabinet filled with expired drugs or medications you no longer use? How should you dispose of them?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, most medications can be thrown in your household trash, but consumers should take certain precautions before tossing them out. A growing number of community-based “take-back” programs offer another safe disposal alternative.

To dispose of your expired and unused medications:

  • Follow the disposal instructions on the medication label. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless specifically instructed to do so.
  • Take advantage of community “take-back” programs that allow the public to bring expired and unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. The Drug Enforcement Agency also works with state and local law enforcement to sponsor National Prescription Drug Take Back Days. The next “take-back” day is scheduled for September 29, 2012.
  • You can also safely dispose of old prescription and over-the-counter drugs at the new drop box in the lobby of Durham Police Headquarters at 505 West Chapel Hill Street. Collected medications will be disposed in a safe and non-hazardous manner, and all drop-offs are completely anonymous.

If no specific instructions are given on the drug label for disposal:

  • Take medications out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or cat litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
  • Put medications in a sealable bag, empty can or another container to prevent them from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
  • Before throwing out a medicine container, 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 medications to friends. Doctors prescribe drugs based on a person’s specific symptoms and medical history. A drug that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.

When in doubt about proper disposal, contact your pharmacist.

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