How to Safely Dispose of Your Expired Medications

mail-back drug bagMail-back drug bag (Photo: Amazon)

You look through your medicine cabinet one day and notice that several of the medications are expired. You can just flush them down the toilet, right?

It depends. Most medications can be safely disposed of through other means. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends flushing only specific medications down your toilet. Schedule II controlled substances, which include narcotic pain medications and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) drugs, should be flushed. These medications are extremely dangerous and possibly fatal to patients who have never used them before, especially young children and pets. The FDA believes the benefits of safe disposal outweighs any environmental risks.

For other medications there are several options. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors one to two National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day events each year. During these events, patients are allowed to bring unused and expired medications, including controlled substances, to be disposed of by the DEA. The events are anonymous and environmentally safe (the medications are incinerated).

Mail-back bag

Retail pharmacies usually have bags for mail-back disposal services. You purchase the bag at your pharmacy, which includes a postage fee, then mail your medications back in the bag. There are some restrictions on what and how you send the drugs. But, this method allows you to dispose of your medications at your convenience, and not have to wait for a take-back event. The DEA recently passed regulations allowing pharmacies to be licensed as authorized collectors. These pharmacies may provide on-site “drop-boxes,” where patients can anonymously dispose of their medications in specific collection receptacles.

If you don’t have access to any of these methods, the FDA recommends you mix the medications with something unpleasant (like kitty litter or used coffee grounds), seal the mixture, and toss it in your regular trash.

Any way you choose to dispose of your medications, remember that the importance of safe disposal is to prevent these medications from falling into the wrong hands.

About the Author

Julie Kaplan, Pharm. D.
Julie Kaplan is a licensed pharmacist in Virginia and the District of Columbia. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts in English from The College of William and Mary and a Doctor of Pharmacy from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has experience in patient communication from working as a retail pharmacist.