How to Toss Old and Unused Medications


Dispose of Old MedicationDo you have drugs at home that you no longer use or are out-of-date (expired)? Most medications can be disposed of in normal household trash, some are to be flushed down the toilet, and others require some simple treatment steps before disposal. In October 2010, President Obama signed into law the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010. Its goal is to provide state and local agencies the authority to collect expired, unused or unneeded prescription drugs to reduce the nation’s prescription drug abuse problem. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also actively involved in proper drug disposal. The FDA has worked with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to reduce the danger of overdose and illegal abuse, and alleviate environmental concerns. The ONDCP has established the following drug disposal guidelines:

  • Follow any specific disposal instructions on the medication label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush drugs unless instructed to by the information that was dispensed with the drug.
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) works with local and state agencies to sponsor National Prescription Drug Take Back Days throughout the United States. Take advantage of this by bringing your old drugs to these locations for proper disposal.
  • If there are no instructions for drug disposal, first mix the medication with undesirable substances, such as coffee grounds or kitty litter, put this mixture in a sealable bag or empty container and place it in your household trash. This will help prevent children, pets, and others from going through your trash and taking old medications.

The FDA also recommends taking a few security precautions before tossing your household drugs:

  • Remove/scratch off any identifying information on the prescription label so it is unreadable. This will help to protect your privacy and personal health information.
  • Don’t give your unused drugs to friends or family members. The drugs were prescribed for you based on specific symptoms and your personal medical history.
  • If you have any questions about proper disposal of a medicine, ask your pharmacist.

It is important to follow the recommendations for each specific drug. The FDA has worked with the drug manufacturer in determining the best method of disposal that will lead to the least risk to public safety.

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