How to Dispose of Expired Medication

When you take medication as prescribed by your doctor, this frequently entails ingesting the entire bottle. You could have additional medicine, though, if your doctor adjusts your dosage, chooses a different drug, or gives you a few more tablets. Additionally, your medicine cabinet can be stocked with old, expired prescription and OTC drugs.

Expired prescription and OTC drugs can be harmful, particularly to kids and animals. Even unused painkillers might be a target for theft. This guide explains how to securely dispose of your prescriptions.

How Can I Safely Dispose of Expired Medication?

The simple way to know how to dispose of expired medications is to ask a pharmacist for assistance. Alternatively, You can read the information that comes with your medicine or the label on the drug box or bottle.

It could offer advice on how to properly dispose of the medication. If there’s no disposal instruction available, here are a few methods you may use to get rid of the medications if it doesn’t. 

Tack-Back Back Programs

Bringing your medications to drug take-back programs is the easiest way to get rid of them. By burning medications, these programs help to safely dispose of them. 

To dispose of prescription and over-the-counter medications, contact your city or county government’s domestic garbage and recycling agency and inquire about drug take-back programs. 

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is sponsored nationwide by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Prescription and over-the-counter medications are accepted for appropriate disposal on such days at a central location. For information on drug disposal, see the US Drug Enforcement Agency website.

There are other local drug disposal initiatives as well. Find a site nearby by contacting your local police enforcement, or contact the DEA to locate a DEA-approved collector in your area.

You can also ask your pharmacist for advice to assist you in properly disposing of your expired medications. Several pharmacies have mail-back programs, on-site drug drop-off boxes, and other options.

Be aware that take-back programs do not accept syringes or other sharp items, such as needles or used syringes. These things need to be put in sharp containers that have FDA approval and disposed of properly.

Flushing medication down the toilet or sink

Flush medication down the toilet or sink

When your medication has expired and a drug take-back program is not easily available, a limited number of pharmaceutically regulated medications contain specific instructions to promptly dump them down the sink or toilet.

If taken by anyone other than the individual for whom they were prescribed, these medications may be particularly hazardous and, in some circumstances, lethal.

Flushing them immediately can aid in preventing others from unintentionally ingesting these potentially harmful compounds. These drugs include oxycodone and morphine, prescription pain relievers.

If you’re unsure whether your medication fits into this category, look for disposal directions on the patient information leaflet or medication label. You can also speak with your pharmacist or go to the FDA’s list of medications that are suggested for flushing. You can throw away your prescription if it’s not on this list.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Not all medicines can go in the garbage, compost, or down the sink or toilet as they might be harmful to the environment. Always check labels before flushing medication.

Disposing of Medicine in Garbage

hazardous waste

It is safe to dispose of most drugs in the trash if:

  • There are no drug take-back facilities locally.
  • The medication comes with no instructions about safe disposal.
  • The medication is not on the flush list.

Almost all medications can be disposed of in your household trash. All types of pills, liquids, drops, inhalers, patches, and lotions, both on prescription and over-the-counter (OTC), fall under this category. For proper disposal, the FDA suggests that you take the following actions:

  • Remove the medication from its original packaging and combine it with something unpleasant-tasting, such as discarded coffee grounds, cat litter, or dirt. This process lessens the drug’s appeal to kids and animals and obscures its appearance to anyone who may purposefully search through garbage for drugs.

  • Place the mixture in a container that can be sealed, such as a storage bag with a zipper or an old coffee can.

  • Put the container in the trash for your home.

  • Mark out all personal details to safeguard your identity and privacy before tossing away empty medication containers and packaging. After that, throw away the packaging.

Additionally, there are unique drug deactivation bags that are safe for the environment and render medications ineffective. They can be ordered through your neighborhood drugstore, an online merchant, or a mail-order pharmacy. While supplies last, some regional drug coalitions offer them for free. To use it

  • Put any leftover medicine in the pouch. Each bag may deactivate six patches, six ounces of liquid, or 45 tablets.
  • Wait 30 seconds after filling it halfway with warm tap water.
  • Place the pouch in the garbage after sealing and give it a light shake.

Benefits of Proper Disposal of Expired Medication

Safe Disposal of expired medication prevents children and pets from being poisoned.

It also curbs adult and teen misuse.

Health issues that may arise unintentionally taking the incorrect medication, excessive amounts of the same medication, or a medication that is too old to be effective are avoided.

Proper disposal is also a way of preventing the flushing or pouring of medications down the drain or into rivers and streams.

Some Tips on How to Reduce the Need for Medicine Disposal

If at all possible, request a reduced dosage or sample of a medication from your doctor for the first time in order to see whether it is effective for you. This might save you money and prevent the need to discard the medication if it doesn’t work for you. Apply similar methods for animal medications.

Check the OTC products’ expiration dates. Will you be able to use it all up before it expires? If not, perhaps less is sufficient.

You may also want to other guides we’ve put together on how to dispose of hazardous waste.

What Are the Effects of Improper Medicine Disposal?

The water supply has been found to include trace levels of birth control pills, antidepressants, shampoos, painkillers, and many other medications and personal care items. These chemicals leak into groundwater through septic systems or are discharged into rivers by sewage treatment facilities. 

The fact that these compounds have been found in the water certainly means that we now have more effective ways to find them. It is unknown whether exposure to these compounds in water will have any negative health impacts.

These chemicals frequently end up in the water because people defecate them or wash them away in the shower. However, when people throw away expired or old medications in the toilet or sink, certain chemicals are washed or flushed down the drain.

Prescription and over-the-counter medications flushed down the toilet in homes with septic tanks can soak into the ground and leach into the water table.

In cities and municipalities with wastewater treatment facilities, prescription and over-the-counter medications that are poured down the sink or flushed down the toilet may make it through the treatment process and end up in rivers and lakes.

They could go downstream and act as a source of local drinking water. Typically, water treatment facilities are not set up to regularly remove medications.

Bottom Line

It’s crucial to properly dispose of unused medications. Children and animals are particularly in danger from taking these medications. If people overuse or accidentally take medications, they can be dangerous and even lethal.

The easiest way to get rid of medicine is to either bring it to a designated drop-off location or have a professional waste handler pick it up from your home.

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