Frank LoVecchio, MD, is a medical toxicologist at the Banner Poison Control Center.
Question: It’s nearly time for spring cleaning and our family goes through everything, including the medicine cabinet. How should I decide what to toss and what to keep? Is there a proper way to dispose of different medications?
Answer: There are several dangers associated with keeping unneeded medication around. Children and animals may get into them, they could be expired, or you might confuse them with currently used medication which could lead to poisoning. It is a great idea to clean out medicine cabinets once a year to throw away your old prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies that have expired.
There are many misconceptions about medication disposal. Should you throw the medication in the trash? Is it best to flush it in the toilet or rinse it down the sink? Unfortunately, these methods of disposal are not safe in all cases, and could be harmful for the environment, wildlife and waterways.
The best way to get rid of unused or expired medication is to bring them to a “take-back” program. Ask your pharmacy if it will accept unused medicine for proper disposal. Costco members can bring unwanted medications to a Costco pharmacy. Also, search earth911.com for programs in your neighborhood.
If the above options don’t work, then another alternative would be to safely dispose of the medication yourself. You should first refer to the printed material that accompanies your medication for specific instructions. If none are provided, be sure to remove all personal information from the bottle to avoid identity theft, and follow the disposal instructions below.
Experts suggest making medicines unusable before trashing so they don’t end up in the wrong hands. Some ideas? Crush pills or dissolve capsules in water. Mix in with kitty litter, coffee grounds or other unappealing kitchen waste. Add salt, ashes from your fireplace, dirt, charcoal or spices to liquids. Put the medication in a plastic container, not glass, duct tape the lid and place it in a sealed bag before tossing it in the trash. To avoid mistreatment once it has been disposed, it’s best to put the sealed bag in a brown paper sack so that the medicine is more difficult to identify.