dispose of unused prescription medicine

Here is how to find an approved pharmaceutical disposal site.

I have just learned that when people have homes on the market and potential buyers walk through, the most ‘pilfered’ items are prescription medicines from the bathroom cabinet. A surprising number of people have drug problems and some prescription drugs have a significant street value. Pills may disappear when anyone is in your home and especially your bathroom – its creepy.

We checked our medicine cabinet and found that a bottle of prescription pain reliever that one of us received after surgery two years ago and not used, was almost empty. I wish we had disposed of the pills, which got me thinking about how to responsibly get rid of unwanted medicine.

From the FDA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, stresses the importance of disposing of unused drugs – and there are estimates that more than half of all prescription drugs do not get used. It is especially important to get rid of addictive opioids which are being abused. It is said that one in four teens have misused or abused prescription drugs in the U.S. We need to limit access to these drugs by disposing of the pills we don’t use.

The FDA offers mixed guidance on drug disposal. On the one hand, the top priority is for people to dispose of unwanted drugs, particularly those which could harm a child or be abused (like opioids). The second important priority is to take the drugs to an approved disposal site. There are environmental dangers to flushing some drugs down the toilet and dangerous medicines should never go to landfill. The mixed message is that if you can’t dispose of a drug at an approved site – it is often better to flush it than to leave it lying around available for abuse.

Why go to the effort of finding an approved drug disposal site instead of flushing pills down the toilet?

Tests have shown that there can be low levels of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water, but so far, pharmaceutical pollution cannot be tied to human health problems. This pollution is cumulative, and it is already harming aquatic life. The regulators are late to this danger and most water quality testing does not include tests for trace pharmaceuticals.  Harvard Study. PBS Report. Bottom line: you help protect the water supply by disposing of drugs safely.

How to dispose of unwanted medicine safely.

The NABP offers a website which locates safe drug disposal sites near you. You type in your zip code and it shows you what sites are available. In my area, they include a CVS Store and several local police departments. Drug Disposal Locator

National pharmacy chains offer safe medicine disposal stations at selected stores.

Walgreens kiosk locater.

CVS Safe Disposal Drop Box locator

Your local hospital may take back your unwanted medicines for safe disposal.

Many police stations offer a Drop Box Drug Disposal program. The Drug Enforcement Administration encourage local law enforcement to provide at least two ‘Drug Take Back Days’ annually in October and April.

If you cannot get to safe disposal site, the FDA suggests that you mix unused capsules and pills with an unpalatable substance like kitty litter so that no one will be tempted to ingest them. Place the mixture in a sealed bag and throw it away. Take labels off medicine bottles and make sure to remove personal information before you throw them away.

Note: Some drugs are more dangerous than others. Ask your pharmacist whether it is safe to flush unused portions of a prescription med down the toilet.