How to Dispose of Unused or Expired Medication

In any given family, there is a strong likelihood the medicine cabinet has old, unused or expired medication in it. This includes both prescription and over-the-counter medication. Getting rid of unused or out-dated medication should be a routine activity, especially for older adults who may accrue more and more over time. To dispose of medicine properly, which can include pills, creams, inhalers and more, follow the Food and Drug Administration guidelines outlined below.

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How to Properly Dispose of Medication

What You Should Do

To dispose of medicine properly, follow these steps:

  1. Identify what medication is expired and/or not needed and move them to a designated area for disposal – you can accomplish this by reading each expiration date on the medication. A helpful tip is to keep a list of all of your medicine with dates of expiration.
  2. Review the medication’s label for any specific disposal instructions (i.e. in local trash pick-up, community program, etc.) – some medications will include specific disposal instructions on the label itself.
  3. Contact your local police department and pharmacy for public take-back programs that collect and dispose of medications – you will often find that your community does have various options to make it easier for you to drop off old/unused medicine. Just doing a Google search of your area will result in specific information for you.
  4. Remove any personally identifiable information on the medication – make sure to remove your name, address and contact information from the medication to protect your identity from being stolen.
  5. Dispose of the medication properly – this can include a few options (see the full list for specifics here):
    1. At a community drug ‘take back’ program if available.
    2. In the trash (if a take-back program is not available) by mixing your medications with items like coffee grounds, kitty litter or something similar. Then put everything into a sealable container (i.e. plastic bag) and into the garbage.
    3. Down the drain only if it is on the FDA list of safe items to dispose of this way.
  6. Conduct this review every few months – do not forget to do this often to prevent any expired medication from being used.

The proper handling of medications can prevent medication mismanagement and use. Remember to not give your medicines to friends to use or dispose of for you. Follow the steps above to get rid of medicine in a safe way.