Dispose of Expired and Unwanted Medicine

Photo credit: The Javorac, Flickr

Do you have expired drugs or medications in your medicine cabinet? Do you have leftover prescription drugs that you’re no longer using? If so, it’s a good idea to clean out your cabinet, because these medications can pose a potential health risk.

When you take medication, whether for a headache or a bad cold, you want it to work, but if the drug has expired, it might not soothe your symptoms. According to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), “Expired medical products can be less effective or risky due to a change in chemical composition or decrease in potency.”

When you’re disposing of medication, you should follow the FDA’s advice to make sure you are doing so properly:

  • First, try to find a medicine take-back program in your area. These are sometimes sponsored by pharmacies or county/city governments. To find one near you, try the locator tool at http://www.disposemymeds.org/index.php/pharmacy-locator, or call your local government office.
  • Many drugs can be safely tossed in your garbage, but take a few precautions first:
    • Remove prescription labels with personal information to help avoid identify theft or privacy concerns.
    • Mix medicines (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds.
    • Place the mixture in a container, such as a sealed plastic bag.
    • Toss in the trash.
  • Flush medicines that could be particularly harmful (or even fatal) in a single dose if someone else accidentally ingests them. When you dispose of these medicines down the sink or toilet, they cannot be accidentally used by children, pets, or anyone else. To see the list of medications that should be flushed, check this webpage from the FDA.

While there has been some concern about the environmental impact of flushing medications, the FDA says the risk is minimal. “The main way drug residues enter water systems is by people taking medications and then naturally passing them through their bodies,” says Raanan Bloom, Ph.D., an environmental assessment expert in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Also, the EPA has found no evidence of adverse affects from flushed medication. However, if you’re still uncomfortable flushing medicine, the best alternative is to find a medicine take back program in your area.

For more information, read this update from the FDA – http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm101653.htm


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