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Dispose of Your Medications Properly With These Safe Methods

Although it’s not a to-do that often tops the list, it is good to remember the importance of clearing medicine out from your cabinets and shelves that is old or that you no longer need. Medicine can come in many forms, such a pills, liquid, powder or ointment. It can be taken by mouth, through a vein, or be something you put into an opening in your body. And whether they come from our infusion pharmacy, another pharmacy or over the counter, all unneeded medications should be disposed of properly.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, which is put on by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), happens each year in April. This is a chance to drop off your old medications to ensure they are disposed of properly – to find the drop off locations, you can visit the DEA’s location finder and enter your zip code as well as the mile radius you want to find the site within. According to the DEA website, “The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposal, while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse of these medications.”

If you’re not able to drop your unneeded medications off at one of the locations on Saturday, please keep in mind there are both safe and unsafe ways to dispose of them at home as well, as outlined by the PHS education department.

Unsafe methods

1. Do not throw medicine into the toilet or down the drain in a sink, garbage disposal, bathtub or shower – it will enter lakes and rivers and harm the animals that live and eat in the water as well as the water that humans drink.

2. Do not hide medicine in food products you throw away – animals may find the food and eat it, meaning they will also eat the medicine.

3. Do not put your medicine into the recycling.

Safe Methods

Follow these instructions to prevent a person or animal from eating the medicine you throw away in the trash. If you have chemotherapy medicine, ask your healthcare provider how to safely throw it away. There may be special instructions.

1. Keep the medicine in its original container

  • The label may have important safety information and often, the cover will be childproof so the medicine will stay safe inside the container.  Be sure to scratch out the patient’s name on the label.

2. Disguise medicine that comes in regular containers and always seal the containers shut with tape to ensure it stays secure. Do not open unused vials, IV bags or ampoules.

  • Solid medicine: Pour a small amount of water into the container to partially dissolve pills or capsules.
  • Liquid medicine: Add table salt, flour, baking soda or non-poisonous powdered spice to make a mixture that is smelly and unappealing to animals.
  • Blister pack: Tape unused, sealed pockets of individual pills with many layers of heavy duty, non-clear tape. Duct tape or strapping tape work great.

3. Put the taped container or blister pack inside a dark bag or small covered plastic tub so that no one can see the medicine container. Tape the bag or cover closed, and throw it into the trash.

By properly disposing of unneeded or old medication, you will ensure that you and those around you – as well as the environment and animals – are kept as safe as possible. Have you found any other effective medicine disposal tips?

Originally published: April 26, 2013