Medications eventually expire, either by their date or usefulness. Once you no longer need pills or other medicines, what do you do with them?
Some people will just leave their leftover meds at home, while others simply toss them in the trash or flush them down the toilet. But, what if we told you these solutions generally aren’t the safe or suggested ways of disposing of old medications?
The Risks and Why You Can’t Just Toss Medications Away
So, why aren’t those disposal methods good to go with? Leaving medications in the house after they’re expired or no longer needed can contribute to the opioid epidemic in the United States. We don’t ever want to think our loved ones may abuse drugs, but as we’ve learned, addiction can strike anyone. Leaving medications in the home also increases the chances of an accidental exposure.
Leaving medications in the house after they’re expired or no longer needed can contribute to the opioid epidemic in the United States and lead to accidental exposures.
Flushing pills in the toilet isn’t usually a good option either. While there are some drugs that can be disposed of this way (more on that later), most cannot. Unless you’re instructed otherwise, you should assume you can’t get rid of your old pills via your toilet. The problem is that toilet water doesn’t just “go away.” While wastewater treatment facilities can sanitize water before it’s released, they aren’t set up to handle chemicals like medications.
Low, but measurable, levels of medications have been traced in rivers, streams, and yes, drinking water, though most of this is from the medications eliminated though human waste. Even if they don’t go into our drinking water, flushed drugs can be washed out to sea, where they can be absorbed by animals and plants, which we may later eat.
The Safest Ways to Dispose of Medicine
If leaving medications in your home or flushing them aren’t options, what can you do to get rid them? Luckily, there are several drug take-back programs that allow you to dispose of medicines safely. It’s only a matter of picking a program!
One of the easiest ways to get rid of old or unnecessary medicines is to find an authorized permanent collection site. The sites are registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and collect and dispose of drugs correctly. Many different types of locations can be DEA-registered collection sites, including pharmacies and hospitals. Most will have a labeled drop box that you can slide the drugs into. It’s that simple.
One of the easiest ways to get rid of old or unnecessary medicines is to find an authorized permanent collection site.
Another safe medication disposal option is to attend a “take-back” event. These are typically national events held by the DEA periodically throughout the year. The event, held by the DEA or local law enforcement, designates a day and temporary collection site that you can show up to and leave your old or unneeded drugs at. Part of the appeal of attending an event is that hosts will educate attendees on potential drug abuse and disposal issues.
Alternative Medicine Disposal Methods
If you must dispose of medication at home, there are a few suggestions you should follow. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that, when throwing away medicine, you mix it with an “unpalatable substance” — like used coffee grounds, cat litter, or even dirt — in a sealed container. This will help to cut the likelihood that someone will dig through the garbage for your unused meds. Before you throw away the bottle, make sure you scratch or black out any personal information that could be on it.
The FDA recommends that you mix medicines with an “unpalatable substance” to prevent someone else from taking them after you throw them out.
In some cases, the drugs pose an especially strong threat to the household. In these instances, the FDA suggests that you flush them down the toilet as soon as they expire or are not needed if you’re unable to dispose of them at a designated location. This is a worst-case scenario for only a small number of drugs, though.
● ● ●
Safe disposal of medications is of the utmost importance to protect against accidental poisonings or to prevent medicine from being misused. There are many methods for responsibly discarding drugs. If you need to get rid of old medications, you have options that are safe, secure, and convenient.