How to Properly Dispose of Your Medication
The calendar marks March 20 as the official first day of spring, ushering in warmer weather, shorter sleeves, and maybe even an itch to “spring clean.” But while you’re spring cleaning, we don’t want you to forget an often-overlooked spot in your home—the medicine cabinet.
A survey by Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs found that about one-third of Americans haven’t cleaned out their medicine cabinet in at least a year, while nearly a fifth have not cleaned it out in three years.
A medicine cabinet overrun with unnecessary, unused or expired medication can cause more than just a cluttered mess every time you open the door, it can also cause a trip to the emergency room—or worse.
According to the Texas Poison Center Network, adverse drug events cause over 700,000 emergency department visits each year, with children under the age of five being twice as likely as older children to experience an adverse drug event.
A 2016 survey published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that more than 60 percent of respondents who had recently been prescribed an opioid reported holding onto leftover medication for possible future use. The survey also highlighted that nearly half of the respondents with opioid prescriptions did not recall receiving information on how to properly store or dispose of the medication.
The bulk of the respondents who did receive storage or disposal information said they relied on the package or a pharmacist.
Medication can do a lot of good, but it can also do harm if misused. That’s why we suggest doing a yearly inventory of what’s in your medicine cabinet and discarding unused meds. Doing so will cut down on the risk of someone misusing a medication in your home—and not just young children, but teenagers and young adults, too.
You might be tempted to just toss pills or other drugs into the trash, but because pills can easily be fished out of the garbage, you’ll want to take safer precautions. Thankfully, North Texas offers medication take back programs and disposal options to help make the process easier.
Return unused medication to a participating pharmacy
Many independent and locally-owned pharmacies offer takeback or disposal programs in conjunction with the National Community Pharmacists Association Foundation and the National Community Pharmacists Association.
To find a disposal location near you and to learn more about medication safety, visit DisposeMyMeds.org.
Find the nearest drop off location
The Dallas Area Drug Prevention Partnership (DADPP) has partnered with local pharmacies and police departments to offer free permanent drop-off locations all over the Metroplex. These locations give residents an opportunity to dispose of potentially dangerous expired, unused or unwanted prescription drugs anonymously, with no questions asked.
Most collection sites won’t accept asthma inhalers, needles, insulin syringes or any other syringes, marijuana, mercury thermometers, and medications containing iodine.
In some towns, you can put asthma inhalers in the trash or recycling bin, but sometimes they are considered hazardous waste and therefore cannot be disposed of in the trash. Check with your local sanitation company, recycling facility, health department or pharmacist for the rules where you live.
Many cities also offer collection events throughout the year. Visit your local government website for more information on where and when the events are held.
Mail medication to a collection site
Some retailers who offer prescription medication, like CVS and Costco, sell envelopes at the pharmacy counter for customers to buy, fill with their unused or unwanted medications, then mail off for secure and safe disposal. Prices can vary and takeback participation varies by location, so to be safe, speak to a pharmacist first to learn about any restrictions or fees associated with the program.
Use a self-service disposal kiosk
In 2016, Walgreens installed safe medication disposal kiosks at 288 pharmacies across 21 states, with a goal of installing kiosks at 500 locations around the country. These kiosks provide a safe and convenient way to dispose of both prescription medications, including controlled substances, and over-the-counter medications at no cost, and are available during regular pharmacy hours.
Walgreens has many kiosks around the Metroplex. Use their store locator to find a medication disposal location near you.
Make trashed medication unappealing
If there is not a medicine take-back program available in your area, you can also follow these simple steps to dispose of most medicines in the trash:
- Mix medicines (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with an unpleasant substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds;
- Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag; and
- Throw the container in your household trash.
Flush if there’s no other option
Flushing medication should be your last resort, since it can introduce trace amounts of the medication into the water source, but there are some medications that may be especially harmful, and sometimes fatal, with just one dose if taken by someone other than the prescription holder. In that case, these medications come with special disposal instructions that require the user to flush it down the sink or toilet.
For a list of these medications, please visit the Federal Drug Administration’s website.
No matter which method you use to safely dispose of your medication, remember to either remove or black out any identifying information like your name, address and phone number before disposing.
It’s also wise to keep the Poison Control Center helpline (1-800-222-1222) saved on your phone and/or posted in a prominent area in your home, so that it can be easily accessed by anyone in case of accidental ingestion of medication.
At Texas Health, we’re partnering with you for a better North Texas. To learn about classes, events, and resources Texas Health offers, please visit TexasHealth.org.