Banner Health Services  

What to do with leftover pain medication?


Margaret Szczotka, PharmD, R.Ph. is the interim senior operations manager in the Pharmacy at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center. Her office can be reached at (623) 524-4070.

Question: I have some pain medication left over from a previous prescription, is it OK to save this until I have another painful experience? 

Answer: You should always dispose of your medication once its use is complete. Having leftover medication in your cabinets can have the potential to cause harm.

First, you should only take medication for the purpose your doctor prescribed. Hanging on to medication in case you have pain in the future might lead you to believe you shouldn’t seek medical attention., Furthermore, pain medications serve a variety of functions and treat specific conditions.  Without instructions from your doctor, you could be taking medicine that could actually make your condition worse. Moreover, the cause of your pain might be able to be alleviated through other methods and not need pain medication at all.

Second, prescription drug abuse is one of the fastest growing addictions in today’s youth. Three young students in El Mirage were hospitalized in September after taking prescription drugs, according to recent news reports. One student took the drugs from her parent’s medicine cabinet.   Having these drugs on hand could be a temptation for your children or grandchildren to help themselves to your leftover prescriptions. Also, there have been cases where homes have been burglarized for the contents of the medicine cabinets.

The Food and Drug Administration suggests disposing of unused prescriptions by taking the drugs out of their bottles and mixing them with undesirable trash, such as cat litter and coffee grounds. They also recommend scratching out all personal information from the medicine container before throwing it away. For more disposal tips, visit

Page Last Modified: 10/12/2011
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