Safe Medicine Disposal
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines play an important role in treating certain conditions, but they must be taken, stored and disposed with care. Expired, unwanted and unused portions of these medicines must be disposed of properly to avoid harm to wildlife, pets and people. Otherwise, there is the potential for small children to gain access to them and for teenagers to abuse them. Old and expired medicine can be ineffective, and some medicines do not work as well as they should when you take them with other medication or home remedies.
You are encouraged to follow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instructions below when throwing out expired, unwanted or unused medicines. The federal guidelines for drug disposal that are below:
- Follow any specific disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanies the medicine. Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
- Take advantage of drug take-back programs in your community that allow you to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government's household trash and recycling service (see blue pages in phone book) to see if there is a take-back program in your community. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, working with state and local law enforcement agencies, periodically sponsors National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days.
- If there are no disposal instructions given on the drug labeling and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash by removing them from their original containers and mixing them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter (this makes the drug less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through the trash seeking drugs). Then, place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
Ilisa Bernstein, Pharm.D., J.D., FDA's Deputy Director of the Office of Compliance, offers more advice here:
- Before throwing out a medicine container, scratch off all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help to protect both your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.
- Do not share medicine with friends. Doctors prescribe medicines based on a specific individual's symptoms and medical history. A medicine that works for you could be dangerous if taken by someone else.
- When unsure about proper disposal, talk to your pharmacist.
Bernstein says the same disposal methods for prescription drugs could apply to over-the-counter drugs as well. For more information on safe medicine disposal, click here.