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Trashing Old Meds? Here’s What You Need to Know

We all can agree that medications play an important role in treating many acute and chronic conditions and diseases, but when they’re no longer needed, what’s the correct way to dispose of them? It’s important to remove any unwanted or unused medicines from your home to reduce the chance that others may accidentally (or intentionally) misuse it. Below are some options and special instructions for you to consider when it comes time to dispose of expired, unwanted, or unused medicines.

Rx Take-Back Programs
Returning your unused and unwanted prescription medicines to a take-back program is the safest and most environmentally protective way to dispose of unused medication, especially controlled substances such as opioids. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events each spring and fall, where collection sites are set up in communities nationwide for safe disposal of prescription drugs.

Community law enforcement agencies, retail pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics may also sponsor medicine take-back programs or have take-back receptacles or “drop boxes” in their facilities. Likewise, you can contact your local waste management authorities to learn about medication disposal options and guidelines for your area. DisposeMyMeds.org also offers a disposal locator search service to help you find medication disposal programs at an independent community pharmacy in your neighborhood.  Simply insert your zip code to find a pharmacy willing to accept and dispose of your unused medications.

Some authorized collection sites may also offer mail-back programs. At some pharmacies, you can purchase pre-paid mailers for unwanted medicines. After purchasing the mailer, you put your medicine(s) in the pre-addressed mailer and sends it to an environmental returns program that properly disposes of the medicines. It’s important to know that controlled substances cannot be sent in these mailers due to current federal regulations.

The Royal Flush
Because some medicines can be especially harmful to others and even fatal in some cases, they may have specific directions to immediately flush them down the sink or toilet. FDA recommends consumers check the label or the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine. When in doubt, you can refer to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing.

Putting a Lid on It
If no medicine take-back programs or DEA-authorized collectors are available in your area, and there are no specific disposal instructions on the medication, according to the Food and Drug Administration, there are steps you can take to dispose of your unused meds in the household trash:

  1. Mix medicines with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds. Do not crush the tablets or capsules. Some of those fine particles could be absorbed through your skin or breathed in after being crushed.
  2. Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
  3. Throw the container in your household trash.
  4. Scratch out all personal information on the prescription label of your empty pill bottle, then dispose of the container.

You can visit the DEA’s website for more information about drug disposal, the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day events, and to locate a DEA-authorized collector in their area. Or you can call the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539 to find an authorized collector in your community.

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