Six Things to Know About Storing and Disposing Prescription Drugs

Keep yourself and your loved ones safe with these medication management tips. Take a glimpse inside your medicine cabinet, and you’ll likely find rows of orange bottles filled with prescription drugs you no longer use. Properly disposing of these medications is important and more complicated than you think.
Woman disposing of various medicationsWhen you find rotten food in your fridge, you know what to do. Ridding your home of expired or unused drugs isn’t as clear cut, and significant safety considerations are at stake. If you’re not monitoring the prescriptions in your home, which is often the case with unused or old drugs, your medications are at risk of being taken by someone in an accidental or intentionally abusive manner—and the results could be fatal.

That’s why it’s important to be as considerate once you’re done taking your prescription as you are while you’re using it. Below are six tips from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help you correctly dispose of your medications.

Don’t wait to dispose of unneeded medications. Cleaning out your medicine cabinet may not be at the top of your to-do list, but it’s essential to preventing the accidental or intentional misuse of your drugs. As soon as you no longer need your prescription, quickly dispose of it.

Take special care with controlled substances. Controlled substances, such as opioids, are especially addictive and susceptible to abuse, and they typically come with special disposal instructions. In fact, most doctors (ie, pain medicine specialists) who prescribe these types of drugs ask that unused prescriptions and pills be returned to them as a way to monitor what their patients are actually using. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor if the medication he or she is prescribing is considered a controlled substance. If it is, talk to your doctor about any special considerations about how to dispose of it.

Keep your prescription patient information leaflet. Many drugs can easily be disposed of at home, and the FDA has a list of drugs that may be flushed down the toilet or sink. But it’s a good idea to also get in the habit of saving the patient information attached to your medication bag when you pick it up at the pharmacy. It contains specific information about safely disposing your drug if you have leftover medication.

Take advantage of community disposal programs and sites. Many communities offer programs for the public to take unused drugs to a central location for safe disposal. Call your local law enforcement agencies to see if they sponsor medicine take-back programs. Furthermore, contact your municipal trash and recycling service to learn about medication disposal options for your area. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also has many community-based medication collectors at pharmacies and law enforcement locations. Visit the DEA’s website or call 1-800-882-9539 for more information and to find a collector near you.

Throw drugs in the trash the right way. If you don’t have access to take-back programs or DEA-authorized collectors in your community, you can throw most medicines away in the trash. Here’s how you should do it:

  • Keeping the medication intact (ie, do not crush tablets or capsules), place it in a sealable plastic bag and cover it with a messy substance like dirt or used coffee.
  • Seal the bag and throw it in the trash.
  • Before throwing away pill bottles or drug packaging, make sure to scratch out all your personal information to protect your identity, then dispose of the container.

Still unsure what to do? Ask your pharmacist. Your pharmacist is a boundless source of information about your prescription. If you’re unable to find the disposal information, you need for your specific medication, speak to your pharmacist. He or she will tell you the proper way to get rid of your prescription, and you’ll have the confidence of knowing the right way to dispose of the drug in the future.

When you take the time to store and dispose of your medications the right way, you’re making your and your loved ones’ safety a priority. The next time you clean out your medicine cabinet, review these tips to properly rid your home of old or unused prescription drugs.

To learn about Dr. Richeimer’s practice, click here.

Updated on: 10/21/16
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