How Should You Dispose of Unused Medications?

Karen Cioffi
February 14, 2013 — 1,304 views  
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I'm sure most of you have wondered if there was a safe or proper way to dispose of unused or expired medications, at one time or another. And, if you haven't wondered, you should have. This is something everyone who gets over-the-counter and prescription medicines absolutely needs to be aware of.

You might be asking why this is so important. Why can't you simply dump everything in the toilet? While this may seem the easiest fix, the toilet is not an end-all solution. The water systems are already overly polluted. And, to answer the question of why this information is so important, it's for your safety and the safety of your family.

It's important to realize that while medicines may be a needed treatment for illnesses or conditions, your doctor or pharmacy will tell you they need to be taken as prescribed and only by the individual they are prescribed to.

Imagine your child or grandchild accidently ingesting your Coumadin medication? And, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other medications that children and adults can have severe, even deadly reactions to with less than a single dose. Pets also fall under this category. You wouldn't want your family pet to accidently ingest a harmful medication.

So, the question arises: How should you dispose of unused or expired medications?

Because of the potential danger involved, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides rules on disposing of medications.

1. Most unused medications can be disposed of in the regular trash. But they must first be mixed with a substance that's not edible. The FDA suggests coffee grinds or kitty litter. This is to prevent children and animals from finding it in the trash or garbage dumps and thinking it's edible.

2. After being mixed with a substance that's not edible and unappealing, the medication must be put in a container and sealed. This might be the prescription container itself (with the label removed) or a plastic zip-lock bag.

3. For medications that are extremely dangerous, where ingestion by someone other than the person the medication was prescribed for is known to be deadly, you should flush unneeded and unused portions down the toilet. You could also flush them down the sink. Whichever you use, be sure the pills or liquid are completely flushed away. You wouldn't want a child or animal to accidently get a hold of it.

You do need to be aware that when using the drain to flush medications away, it should only be done with medications that are deemed too dangerous to be thrown out in the trash.

Why is this warning necessary?

Unfortunately, our water systems, foods, and the air we breathe are becoming overly polluted with residual discarded medications, among lots of other toxins, and it's an unhealthy situation. You don't want to add to the pollution.

4. Check the patient information packet that comes with the medication to see if there is disposing information, as well as safety and handling instructions.

5. When in doubt, you might ask the pharmacist who filled the prescription.

6. You can check out DailyMed for updated information on medications:


Karen Cioffi

For more health tips, information, options, and two FREE health related reports, visit Karen Cioffi at Health Tips to a Healthier You.