Safe Medicine Disposal

Q:        How should I get rid of my old and expired medicines? I don’t want to just flush them down the toilet into our water supply.

You are not alone in having leftover medicines. In fact, nearly one-third of medicines sold to Washington State households go unused every year, according to a report by Take Back Your Meds, a group of over 270 health organizations, law enforcement, local governments and environmental groups. That’s about 33 million containers of unused pills just in the state of Washington. When you think about the rest of the country…Yikes!

Disposing of your unused medicines is a good idea. Keeping unwanted and outdated prescription medicines around your house invites abuse and theft. Removing medicines you no longer need helps keep habit-forming drugs from entering the lives of your children, grandchildren or their friends and keeps you from contributing to the rapidly growing problem of prescription drug abuse.

It’s not just the people you know who are checking out your medicine cabinet. In addition to friends of your children and grandchildren looking for your leftover pain pills, today’s home intruders look for prescription bottles of pain medicines sitting on countertops or stacked up in medicine cabinets, not just for flat screen televisions and laptop computers.

One of the safest ways to dispose of your expired, unused or unwanted medicines is to take them to a site participating in a take-back program. While it seems natural to return your unused medicines to your pharmacy, under federal law, pharmacies, doctor’s offices and hospitals can’t accept any outdated or unwanted prescriptions of controlled substances, such as narcotic painkillers like Vicodin® or medicines for anxiety such as Ativan® (lorazepam).

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began hosting national prescription drug take back events beginning in September 2010. Twice a year the DEA partners with local law enforcement agencies to give the public another alternative to disposing of their medicines besides putting them in the trash or flushing them down the toilet.

The 12th Annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Day will be Saturday, October 22, 2016, and as with previous national Take Back events you can bring your medicines to participating sites for safe, free disposal, no questions asked.

But now there’s no need to wait for the next Take Back Day. The DEA has encouraged communities to provide local drop box sites authorized by the DEA for year-round safe medication disposal. You can search by zip code, city or county to find the authorized sites closest to you on the DEA website: https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubdispsearch/spring/main?execution=e1s1.

If you can’t get to a take-back site near you, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends disposing of any potent pain medicines by removing them from their original containers and flushing them down a sink or toilet. This includes pain pills containing drugs like Vicodin® or hydrocodone, oxycodone, and patches containing fentanyl, also called Duragesic®. Although it seems harmful to the environment to flush them, it’s even more dangerous to leave them in your trash container. Just part of a pill or a used patch of these powerful pain relievers can be lethal to a pet or small child sucking or chewing on it.

Other prescription medicines can be safely disposed of by first removing them from their bottles and boxes and mixing the pills or capsules with something unappealing like kitty litter, coffee grounds, sawdust or even dirt, then placing them in a leak-proof container like a sturdy zip-lock bag before adding them to your trash bin.

Before putting empty prescription bottles into the trash, protect your privacy by marking out any identifying information such as your name, prescription number and drug name with a permanent marker, like a Sharpie®. Sometimes you can just peel the label off and crumple it up.

4 Tips to Safely Dispose of Your Unwanted or Expired Medicines:

  1. The best way to dispose of your medicines is to take them to a Take-Back location or event in your community. Many communities hold their own Take-Back events during the year in addition to National Prescription Take Back events held in the spring and fall.
  2. If you can’t get to a take-back location or event, remove any potent pain medicines such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, OxyContin®, or fentanyl patches and flush them down the toilet or sink. Don’t leave them in your trash to be found by a child or pet.
  3. Mix any non-narcotic prescription pills in with kitty litter, used coffee grounds, or even dirt before placing them into your trash. Using a plastic container with a secure lid or a heavy plastic zip-lock bag helps prevent leakage.
  4. Remember to remove or mark out any personal information and drug names before tossing used prescription bottles or boxes into your trash.

Leave a Reply