How to Dispose of Expired Medications


When you open the medicine cabinet in your bathroom and notice that a bottle of pills is expired, don't take them, just as you might occasionally consume a dairy product after its best-before date. Old medication is typically less effective and might even be dangerous, warns the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Instead, dispose of the expired medication through a local program, or throw it out in a safe manner.

Take-Back Programs

Call your local government's waste-collection department to determine if the city or county is holding an upcoming take-back day for drugs. In many communities, it's common for the local government to hold such an event to encourage residents to dispose of unneeded medication safely. Go to the event and hand over your expired medication to officials who will then dispose of it safely. Alternatively, call the nearest pharmacy to determine if it can help. Some pharmacies may have take-back programs that allow you to drop off or even mail unused medication.

Garbage Disposal

It's acceptable to throw your expired medication in the trash, provided you take the proper steps. The FDA recommends that you empty the drugs out of their containers and mix the medication with old coffee grounds or cat litter. Place the entire mixture in a plastic bag, seal it tightly and put it in your household trash. Remove the personal labels on your medication containers or conceal your name and the prescription number with black permanent marker, and then place the containers in the trash.

Flushing Method

The FDA recommends flushing some types of medication down the toilet or pouring them down your sink drain, provided you can't get rid of them through a take-back program. Take this approach only if the medication container indicates that the medication is suitable for flushing; flushing the wrong type of medication can lead to a risk of contaminating the local water source. The flushing process is common in medication such as fentanyl patches, given their potent and potentially harmful nature. The FDA's website features a list of medication suitable for flushing.

Importance of Proper Disposal

Dispose of medication properly because of the risks it poses to the community. Failing to do so can lead to accidental ingestion by children and pets or even deliberate abuse by teenagers and adults. Getting rid of expired medication also limits your risk of mistakenly taking the wrong pill. Never share your expired medication with friends or family members. The FDA frowns on attempting to donate expired medication to people in other countries.

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