How to Dispose of a Deceased Person's Medications


Up until a few months ago, this situation had never entered my mind. My husband had been on home hospice care for nearly a year before he passed away, and although I regularly refilled his prescriptions and kept track of all his meds, it never occurred to me that we might have some leftover drugs around the house after his demise.

A county constable came to our house the day Jim died, as required by Texas law. He and the hospice nurse disposed of all the morphine and lorazepam (controlled substances) and got me to sign a paper verifying that I saw the disposal. In spite of this procedure, it still didn’t dawn on me about the other drugs.

Months went by, and one bright morning I decided to make room in the cabinet for some other stuff. That’s when it finally hit me. What do people do with all these medications? Some of it had expired; most had not. Some were in their original packaging, some weren’t. It turned out to be a rather large assortment of prescription drugs without a home. I turned to my trusty friend, Google, looking for answers.

Pharmacies won’t take them back. It’s illegal to sell them on eBay (or anywhere). Doctor’s offices aren’t interested. They can’t be flushed down the toilet, because we don’t need pharmaceuticals in the sewer system. Not a good idea to just toss them into the curbside garbage, either.

So ….. what to do? After much more research, I found two answers. At a Kroger pharmacy I discovered I could buy a postage-paid vinyl envelope for a couple of bucks, remove all the labels and send them away to some non-profit organization that recycles them. But they wouldn’t take anything that was expired or opened; only fresh and unopened for them. There are also some pill disposal products on Amazon (see below).

My final solution was to dump all of the pills, capsules and liquids into one large metal bowl, throw all the packaging away, cover the medications with water and let them sit overnight. The next morning they were an ugly, gooey, toxic mess. I poured this gunky blob into some cat litter (coffee grounds might have worked) and double-bagged it.

Goodbye old medications. Hello to two clean shelves in my cabinet.

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Comments 4 comments

tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 3 years ago from California

I am sorry about your loss.

Voted up and useful.

Marie Brannon profile image

Marie Brannon 3 years ago from Pearland, Texas Author

Thank you, Tireless. I hope my experience can help somebody else.

tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 3 years ago from California

My dad passed away last month. We had to deal with this too. Since he lived in TN and its still legal to burn, what we couldn't recycle we burned.

My aunt knew about charities that work with the homeless that could take some of the current well marked meds.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America

I really needed to see this info two years ago when a friend died, but I will remember it forever now. My friend was a VietNam Vet and severely injured there and on a number of heavy-labor jobs. He left garbage bags full of unexpired, unopened medications - he received lots of prescriptions from the VA by mail every month, and he had a private physician as well. He left a lot of leg and back braces, canes, and other devices that we were able to pass on to the needy.

The city police took only one garbage bag full of meds to accompany the autopsy and we were stuck with the rest - hundreds of bottles. He also amassed about 1,000 bottles of vitamins and supplements he liked - kind of hoarding meds in case they disappeared from production.

We found a couple of pharmacies to take a few bottles and a medical program that could use some more bottles of the meds overseas in third world countries. It took a long time to get rid of everything. I really like that cat litter idea!

I wonder if the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, or US Navy Hospital Ships could transport some of these types of drugs to third world countries?

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