The typical American medicine cabinet is full of expired and unused drugs that often sit untouched for years. When there’s a need for additional space in the medicine cabinet only a fraction of these medications will get disposed of properly. In 2015, approximately 4 billion prescriptions were filled at pharmacies throughout the United States. It’s estimated that of those 4 billion prescriptions, as many as one-third are never used.
Fortunately there are a few safe alternatives for disposal so that we don’t have to let expired or unused prescriptions accumulate dust in the medicine cabinet.
Expired and unused medications generally should not be flushed down the toilet, poured down the drain, or thrown out in the trash. Studies have shown that over-the-counter and prescription drugs can make their way into our nation’s waterways if we don’t dispose of them properly. Once in the waterway they can contribute to water pollution and cause adverse effects on aquatic life. When drugs are discarded into the trash there’s a possibility that they’ll be found and misused or pollute the soil in a landfill.
The good news is that there are plenty of community-based drug “take-back” programs to help minimize the amount of flushing and tossing of medications. These take-back programs allow people to drop off their unused medications at convenient locations. The reason that take-back programs are so successful is they are convenient and they keep unused drugs out of our waterways and prevent drugs from being misused by someone who finds them in the trash.
At least once each year there are National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days. According to the U.S. Department of Justice: “The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse of medications.”
This year a take-back day is scheduled for April 30, 2016, from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. On April 1, 2016, the Department of Justice will provide information on collection sites near you.
Another option for locating a disposal program in your area is finding a local pharmacy on Dispose My Meds by typing in your zip code. The map will reflect any local pharmacies near you that accept unused medications.
If a pharmacy isn’t an option, contact your local law enforcement agency to find out if medication disposal is available at the precinct or another local agency. It’s also worth checking in with the prescribing physician about a take-back program.
As a last resort, if no disposal instructions are given on the prescription drug label and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the garbage following this protocol suggested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
- Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds.
- Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
- Throw the container in your household trash.
- Scratch out all personal information on the prescription label of your empty pill bottle or empty medicine packaging to make it unreadable, then dispose of the container.
There are a number of options for proper disposal of unused and expired medications. Spending the time to find a take-back location in your area will help prevent water pollution and the possibility of drug misuse.