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Toss Old Medications, But Safely

Posted by Sujatha Anand. M.D. on Feb 9, 2019 8:53:00 AM

Almost everything has an expiration date or life expectancy – your medication included! I tell patients to go through their medicine cabinets and clean them out. Expired, unwanted, or unused medicine should be disposed of, but safely to protect others and the environment. Keeping unused, excess prescription medications in the home leaves households vulnerable to accidents, such as poisoning and overdoses, and misuse.

Drug Take-Back Sites

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has several suggestions when it comes to disposing of unused, unwanted, or unneeded medication. The preferred method is to drop unwanted medication at a designated drug take-back site. There are some wonderful tools available that allow you to search for a nearby drop-off site. These include search tools offered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy

Throwing them in the Trash

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If a drug take-back site isn’t available, the FDA recommends throwing most medications in the trash, but there are proper steps to ensure those medications are disposed of properly.

First, make sure that all personal information on the label is removed and dispose of the container. You also want to make sure you don’t crush tablets or capsules, but instead, place them in a mixture of something inedible, such as cat litter, dirt, or used coffee grounds. After the medication is mixed with one of these substances, put it in a sealed plastic bag and then place it in your trash. 

Flushing them Down the Toilet

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Certain medications are so strong and potentially dangerous that the FDA and the Texas Poison Center Network recommend flushing them down the toilet if a prescription disposal site isn’t available in your area. These aren’t regular, run-of-the-mill medications. In some cases, one dose taken by a person not prescribed to ingest these prescriptions can be fatal. Flushing medication should be your last resort, since it can add trace amounts of the medication into the water source. 

One other reminder I like to give patients is to keep the Poison Control Center helpline (800-222-1222) saved on your phone and posted in a prominent area in your home in case of medication poisoning. 

If you have questions about how to dispose of medication and the best way to do it, talk with your physician or pharmacist. He or she can offer guidance.

Anand_SujathaDr. Anand is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who’s accepting new patients at The Woodlands Clinic. She helps her patients make informed decisions about their healthcare through education and by fostering long-lasting relationships based on trust.



Topics: how to discard medication safely, medication disposal, throw away medication safely


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