Medicines, dietary supplements, and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs may be important for our health and well-being, but they can also be a health risk in the home, especially if there are children present. Keeping unused or expired medications, whether yours or a loved one’s after their death, creates an unnecessary and avoidable risk of poisoning.
- Exposure to medicine in the home is a major source of unintentional poisonings in children in the United States.
- Each year in the United States, approximately 60,000 emergency department (ED) visits and 450,000 calls to poison centers are made after children under 6 years of age find and ingest medication without caregiver oversight.
- Over two-thirds of ED visits for accidental pediatric medication exposures involve children 1-2 years old and nearly 20% result in hospitalization.
You may even have medications, especially pain medication, that others may want to steal to use recreationally or sell, which are best disposed of immediately.
Medication should not be put in the trash or flushed down the toilet until you look up the recommended form of disposal for that medication.
The preferred choice is to find a location that has a drop box or kiosk for your unused medications.
- This could either be a permanent location or during a periodic take-back program.
- Contact your local police department or pharmacies to find out if they have year-round medicine disposal drop boxes and when you can use them.
- If not, they may be able to tell you of the closest location or when the next scheduled DEA take-back event is.
- You can check the DEA website for the date and local collection sites.
- They are sometimes placed in fire stations, hospitals, and municipal buildings.
- The major disadvantage is that take-back centers may have limited times when you can bring medications in, requiring you to either wait or search around.
Alternatively, you may be able to dispose of it yourself.
- When attempting to dispose of a medication yourself, the specific details you need to know are the type of medication, the recommendations for disposing those medications, and federal, state, and local laws regarding their disposal. The Federal Drug Disposal Act regulates most of the options.
- The major advantage is that you can do it immediately and not have to look for and drive to take-back locations or wait until the next take-back day.
- It is important to know the impact of each disposal method, usually environmental, and how to do it properly.
You may also want to look into whether you can donate certain medications before getting rid of them.
- Department of Justice
- Dispose My Meds – online resource to help locate medication disposal programs at local independent community pharmacy. Less useful than DEA tool, but may list locations DEA doesn’t.
- Drug Disposal – the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Drug Disposal Locator allows you to search for safe collection sites by zip code.
- Drug Disposal: Drug Take Back Locations. US Food & Drug Administration.
- How to Dispose of Medicines Properly. Environmental Protection Agency handout. Published: April 2011.
- How To Dispose Of Medicine Safely. American Association of Poison Control Centers handout.
- Identifying Drugs – images of many dangerous medications to help identify them.
- My Old Meds – a list of kiosk sites found in pharmacies and law enforcement facilities in all 50 states.
- SIRUM – non-profit organization that will accept donated medications and provides information on other donation programs
- Bauer A. What Should I Do With Unused Medications? Cancer.net website. Posted: April 24, 2014. Accessed: May 29, 2020.
- Cauchi R, Berg K. State Prescription Drug Return, Reuse and Recycling Laws. National Conference of State Legislatures website. Published October 1, 2018. Accessed: May 29, 2020
- Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know. US Food & Drug Administration website. Accessed: May 28, 2020.
- Drug Disposal: Flush Potentially Dangerous Medicine (PDF). US Food & Drug Administration website. Updated: April 2018. Accessed: May 28, 2020.
- Drug Disposal: Questions and Answers. US Food & Drug Administration website. Updated: December 20, 2018. Accessed: May 28, 2020.
- Ianzito C. More Drug Stores Take Back Your Unused Meds. AARP website. Posted: June 18, 2018. Accessed: May 28, 2020.
- Safe Medicine Disposal. American Association of Poison Control Centers website. Accessed: May 28, 2020.
- Safe Medicine Storage & Disposal. BeMedWise website. Updated: May 6, 2020. Accessed: May 28, 2020.
- Usman K, et al. Risks Associated With the Environmental Release of Pharmaceuticals on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “Flush List.” Sci Total Environ. 2017 Dec 31;609:1023.
- Weinberger D. Consider donating your unused, unexpired prescription medications. SingleCare website. Posted: July 10, 2019. Accessed: May 28, 2020
- What Do I Do with Old Inhalers? MEDPRO Disposal website. Posted: October 19, 2016.Accessed: May 28, 2020.
- Where and How to Dispose of Unused Medicines. US Food & Drug Administration website. Accessed: May 28, 2020.