Odds are you have some old medications cluttering up your medicine cabinet — expired flu meds from the last time you were sick, or perhaps some leftover prescription painkillers that you never used.
Beyond just taking up space, these medications can pose a danger to yourself and others, so it’s important to get rid of them. But it’s not necessarily as simple as just tossing them in the trash.
Below, learn about how to dispose of your medications the right way.
Let’s start with why it’s so important to dispose of your old medications. Your leftover or expired prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can be dangerous to both you and your children. Here’s how:
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), most opioid addictions don’t start with illegal drugs but rather with prescriptions found in home medicine cabinets. Most people who misuse a prescription drug get it from a family member or friend.
You can’t just throw old medications in the garbage. If you don’t dispose of them properly and they get into your town or city’s water supply, they could potentially harm animals and people (a global study found pharmaceutical pollution in water on every continent). There’s also a chance that children or strangers could pick your old drugs right out of the trash can. And your personal information is often written on your pill bottles, so you want to be sure to protect that, too.
Here are some options for safely throwing out your old medications:
If you can’t get to a drop-off location, the FDA recommends these steps for safely disposing of drugs — including pills, liquids, creams, or patches — at home:
It’s generally not a good idea to flush old drugs down your toilet or to pour liquid drugs down the sink. However, the FDA says it’s OK to flush certain medicines that have high misuse or abuse potential, as well as those that can cause death after a single dose if they’re not taken the right way. For example, any drug that includes the word “fentanyl” can be flushed. Fentanyl is meant to treat pain but can be deadly if taken the wrong way. You can find the complete “flush list” on the FDA’s website.
If you have diabetes or certain other conditions, you may need to inject yourself with insulin or another medication regularly. But you’ll also have to figure out a way to safely dispose of your used needles. For one thing, they can accidentally injure someone, and they can also potentially make someone sick if they’re contaminated with drugs or bodily fluids.
The FDA recommends a two-step disposal process for used needles.
Bottom line: Whether you have old prescription medicines or needles lying around, there are safe ways to throw them away. If you’re ever unsure of what to do, you can always consult your doctor or local pharmacist.
The information above is provided as general information only. It is not intended to diagnose or recommend treatment of any illness, disease or condition. You should consult a qualified medical professional if you have questions or need more information.
The Lancet, “Managing the opioid crisis in North America and beyond.” February 2, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(22)00200-8/fulltext
University of California San Diego, “OTC: How Important is that Expiration Date on your Pill Bottle?” February 26, 2019. Retrieved from https://health.ucsd.edu/news/features/Pages/2019-03-11-OTC-how-important-is-that-expiration-date.aspx
University of York, “Global study finds the extent of pharmaceutical pollution in the world’s rivers.” February 14, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2022/research/global-study-pharmaceutical-pollution-rivers/
U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, Annual Report on Pediatric Poisoning Fatalities and Injuries. January 2022. Retrieved from https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/AnnualReportonPediatricPoisoningFatalitiesandInjuries_January2022.pdf?VersionId=k06y6jg2vZJgMHWbSZ1q.k0paJhv_dzT (page 11)
U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. “PPPA.” Retrieved from https://www.cpsc.gov/FAQ/PPPA Accessed March 22, 2022
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. “DEA National Rx Takeback.” Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2022-03/New_DEA_TakeBack_Pamphlet_3.5x8.5_English%202.pdf Accessed March 21, 2022
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. “DEA National Rx Takeback Results.” Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2022-01/NTBDI-Results-october%202021.pdf Accessed March 22, 2022
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Don’t be tempted to use expired medicine.” Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/special-features/dont-be-tempted-use-expired-medicines Accessed March 22, 2022