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Proper Disposal of Medications: Safety Practices for All Homes

Updated on July 15, 2012
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I'm a dad, husband, and Christian first. The rest is just life's add-ons: an educator, administrator, learning & development professional.

How much unused or expired medications do you have at home?
How much unused or expired medications do you have at home? | Source

When was the last time you took an inventory of your medicine cabinet? if you have not done so for a long time, now is the time to do it. Wait, finish reading this first!

Doing an inventory of your medicines (prescription or over-the-counter) is a fundamental safety practice that every household should regularly do. But what do you do when you find expired or unused medications? Well, against common knowledge, don’t just flush it down the toilet. I know it is easy but there are many considerations before doing this. Although this is a viable method, there may be health and environmental issues. Likewise, don't just toss them in the trash can and hope for the best. Disposal of medication is actually simple as long as you know how to do it properly.

FDA Logo
FDA Logo | Source
DEA Logo
DEA Logo | Source
EPA logo
EPA logo | Source

1. Take back program and similar initiatives

The take back program is a way to safely dispose of medicines. Simply put, unused and expired medications are collected by the authorities for safe disposal. Spear headed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), this initiative provides a worry-free method of removing unused and expired medicines from the home. However, if you live outside the US, you may need to check your local drug enforcement agency if they have a similar program.

Removing expired or unused drugs from the home lowers the risk of abuse associated in prescription drugs. Furthermore, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drugs Use and health, abuse of prescription drugs is more prevalent compared to the use of cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin and the like.

2. Hazardous waste disposal method

Another way safe disposal of medications is through the hazardous waste disposal system. Check your local sanitation department or waste disposal unit if they have any hazardous waste disposal systems. Also, get their guidelines so that you can properly comply with their standards. In addition, hazardous waste disposal is regulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency or EPA.

3. Proper disposal with household trash

When there is no take back program or hazardous waste disposal options, households can still use the household trash. However, several reminders must be kept in check.

  1. Check your local laws and ordinances if disposal of medications in the trash is allowed.
  2. Mix the medication with unpalatable materials - kitty litter, used coffee grounds, saw dust.
  3. Put the mixture in a plastic bag and seal it properly.
  4. Place the plastic bag in trash bins that are covered.

What can you flush?

Get the updated list of medications that you can flush down the toilet or drain from the FDA website. Make sure you check regularly for an updated list.

4. Flush it down

Another popular way of disposing unused or expired medication is flushing it in the toilet or throwing them in the sink. Unfortunately, there are some prescription medicines that can be harmful to the environment when flushed. Water Treatment facilities may not be equipped to treat certain medicines and drugs when introduced into the sewage system. thus, it can contaminate the water supply. Some of the medicines that can be flushed include: fentanyl citrate, methylphenidate, fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine sulfate, entecavir, atazanavir sulfate.

Where to get information on disposal methods:

General reminders

  • Remove all personal information on labels
  • Check local laws regarding proper disposal of medication in your area
  • Coordinate with pharmacies, community clinics and hospitals regarding proper disposal methods
  • Check FDA, EPA, DEA and other government agencies websites for updated lists of medications that can be flushed down the toilet or sink.
  • Know the latest medicine disposal methods

Over-the-counter and prescription medicines are safe when used as directed. However, unused and expired medications can be harmful to children and adults and even pets when improperly handled or accidentally taken. As such, it is imperative that all expired and unused drugs be disposed immediately. Moreover, observing proper disposal methods ensures safety of the environment, household members and pets.

OK, now you can do your inventory. Good luck and observe proper disposal of medication.


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    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Thanks for reading and voting up jaybird22. I just hope that more people get to dispose their meds properly.

    • jaybird22 profile image

      jaybird22 5 years ago from New York

      Good Hub! Voted up.