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Dos and Don'ts of Drug Safety

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Dispose of Old Medications Properly

When medications have passed their expiration dates, disposing of them will protect you and others in your home from consuming a medication that may have become ineffective or even toxic. Disposing of medications properly will help protect the environment, as well as pets, children, and anyone who might find medicines in your trash. 

Before flushing old medicines down the toilet or tossing them in a trash can, check if your city or county has a medicine take-back program. These are programs that allow the public 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 or go to your municipality's website) or check with your pharmacy to see if a take-back program is available in your community. While experts used to recommend flushing old medication down the toilet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends against this because sewage plants may not be able to adequately remove drug ingredients from the water.

The FDA recommends flushing only if the drug label or accompanying information has instructions to do so. These are usually medicines that are very dangerous or fatal if they are taken by the wrong person, or if they are found by a child or pet. This includes the following medications:

Other drugs can be disposed of with your household garbage. When throwing away medications in the trash, follow these medication disposal guidelines:

  • Remove drugs from their original containers and remove or scratch out identifying information from container labels.
  • Crush pills or capsules or dissolve them in water. (Mix liquid medications in water too.)
  • Mix crushed or dissolved medications with kitty litter, saw dust, coffee grounds, or another substance that will absorb them and make them undesirable.
  • Put drug mixture into a sealable plastic bag or bottle with a screw-on lid and place in trash.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on May 28, 2013
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