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How to Properly Dispose of Unused Medicine

Is your home’s medicine cabinet full of expired drugs or medications you no longer use? It might be time to clean out the clutter. However, because a drug that was safe for you might be harmful for someone else, it’s important to dispose of your expired, unwanted or unused medicines in the safest way possible.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are two ways to dispose of medicine at home, depending on the drug.

Some prescription drugs—such as powerful narcotic pain medicines and other controlled substances—could be especially harmful to others and have specific directions to immediately flush them down the sink or toilet when they’re no longer needed. This reduces the danger of overdose from unintentional or illegal use.

To see if your medication should be flushed, check the label or the patient information leaflet with your medicine, or consult the FDA’s list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing. Notably, the FDA says there’s been no sign of environmental effects caused by flushing recommended drugs.

Meanwhile, almost all other medicines can be thrown into your household trash. These include prescription and over-the-counter drugs in pills, liquids, drops, patches and creams.

To safely throw drugs out, remove them from their original containers and mix them with something undesirable, such as used coffee grounds, dirt or cat litter. This makes the medicine less appealing to children and pets and unrecognizable to someone who might intentionally go through the trash looking for drugs.

Put the mixture in something you can close, such as a resealable zipper storage bag, empty can or other container, to prevent the drug from leaking or spilling out, and throw the container in the garbage. To protect your identity and privacy, scratch out all your personal information on the empty medicine packaging before throwing it away, as well.

Outside the house, drug take-back programs are also a great option to properly dispose your expired or unused medication. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors National Prescription Drug Take Back Day nationwide, and many communities also have their own take-back programs. Check with your local law enforcement officials to find a location near you or with the DEA to find an agency-authorized collector in your area. You can also check with your pharmacist, as some pharmacies have mail-back programs and disposal kiosks for unused medicines.

Using these methods to clean out your cluttered medicine cabinet will not only help free up some space, but also help ensure you do it in a way that keeps your family safe.