6 Ways To Safely Dispose Of Prescription Medications

By Beth Leipholtz 06/22/18

Drop-off boxes and drug disposal bags are among a few of the best methods for properly disposing of expired or unused medication.

woman holding instructions and a packet of pills

Simply throwing unused medications in the garbage doesn’t cut it. 

There are better, safer methods when it comes to disposing of prescription medications, according to U.S. News and World Report

Disposing of such items is something nearly everyone will face at some point. There are numerous reasons to safely dispose of medications, including to protect pets, family and even yourself. 

"Keeping extra medications in your home can put other people or pets at risk,” Lindsay Slowiczek, a pharmacist and drug information research fellow at the Center for Drug Information and Evidence-Based Practice at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, tells U.S. News. “Children, elderly people and pets could accidentally take these medications and experience dangerous side effects or even experience a toxic overdose, due to their smaller size." 

Additionally, data implies that many users of heroin began with prescription medications. Eliminating such medications from your home can lessen the risk of someone using them the wrong way. 

To safely dispose of prescription drugs, U.S. News recommends the following:

1. Locate a drop-off box. This is perhaps the best option for disposing of unneeded medications, the site states. Such boxes tend to be located at places like law enforcement offices, pharmacies and hospitals. The nearest drop-off box can be found by visiting www.rxdrugdropbox.org or asking local law enforcement or waste management. 

2. Research options for disposing of the medications yourself. Sometimes packaging on the medication will include directions for disposal, U.S. News states. If unable to locate such directions, try mixing the uncrushed medications into an unappealing substance, like coffee grounds or cat litter. Place this in a sealed bag and into the garbage, being sure to scratch out any information about the type of medication or personal information.

3. Purchase a drug disposal bag. Such bags include a substance to deactivate medications or include a container in which you combine the medication with a powder or liquid to make it harder to access. These can often be found online. Walmart even gives away such kits. 

4. Determine if a medication should be flushed. U.S. News states that because some medications—such as painkillers, anxiety medications and stimulants—present an increased risk, they should be flushed down the toilet. Such medications can be fatal to those without a prescription. Check the FDA website for a list of flushable medications.

5. Take advantage of a Drug Take-Back Day. In April and October, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has temporary locations to collect unwanted medications. At the most recent event on April 28, nearly 1 million pounds of unwanted medications were collected. Locations for Drug Take-Back Days can be found at www.takebackday.dea.gov.

6. Touch base with hospice providers. Many people who were in hospice care and passed away were likely on prescription medications. It is a good idea to find out about the handling of prescription medication disposal with hospice providers, as some provide the service. 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.