How To: Properly Disposing of Unused/Expired Medication

Thursday, March 28

Spring cleaning is still in full force over at our household. I've decided to deep clean everything. It's a slow, slow process, but it's so nice opening a closet door and seeing everything organized, or not having to worry about where all of our important papers are because I sorted through them just the other week (with the husband's help). We've been decluttering and purging like crazy. My goal is to be wrapping up with everything by the end of this week (because my birthday is next week, and as much as I love cleaning, it doesn't exactly fit in with my idea of celebrating). 

Let's move on to some important business, shall we? Whenever you decide to tackle a closet/cabinet/drawer you haven't touched in a while, you are inevitably going to come across something kind-of important that you don't know what to do with. Last week, I came across a whole lotta expired medicine in this cabinet here: 

All of our medicine and first aid items were stored in those two baskets. After taking things down and going through it all, this is what the cabinet looks like now:

Little bit of a bad shot - I was focusing on the organized tray on the bottom shelf. But do you notice that there is just one basket up top now? That's because half of all of the medicine we had was expired. Half!

As soon as I had the expired vs. still good medicine sorted, I realized that I didn't know how to properly get rid of unused medicine. Medicine is kind-of a big deal. Throwing it out in the trash seemed wrong (what if an animal got into our bags?). Flushing it down the toilet didn't seem right (could it potentially pollute the soil and water?). So I did what we all do best when we don't have an answer to something - I googled. 

Right away, I found the FDA's official guide on how to dispose of unused medicines (you can see that document HERE). 

According to the FDA's guidelines, the first thing you are supposed to do is follow any disposal instructions contained on the medicine. The FDA has approved certain practices (such as flushing certain medicines down the toilet), and occasionally you will have a medicine label containing that information. I didn't notice any disposal instructions on mine, so I went to step 2. 

Step 2 was enlightening for me. Apparently, there are drug "take-back" programs all over the country. These programs allow you to bring in unused medication to a certain location that will properly dispose of the drugs for you. *I highly recommend this if it is available in your area!! Currently, there is a planned National Take Back Day on Saturday, April 27th from 10:00am - 2:00pm. Sites are currently being organized - you can visit this website on April 1st to see if a site will be organized near your community. You can also contact your local pharmacy - they will most likely have information regarding sites near you. Unfortunately for me, I did not find a take-back program anywhere close to where I lived, and I hadn't heard about the national take-back day in April, otherwise I might have held onto them for another month. So I went with step 3.

*See "updates" at the bottom of this post for additional information on drug take-back programs that may be available in your area

Step 3 on the FDA's guideline is to:
(1) Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance
(2) Put them in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag
(3) Throw the drugs in the household trash

These precautions are part of the FDA's "risk mitigation" strategy. In other words, it "presents the least risk to safety." So if an animal digs into your trash can outside, they won't be as tempted to eat the medicine. Or if a child tips over the trash in your house, they hopefully won't see a bunch of brightly colored pills that look like candy. Or, even if someone who has a serious drug problem digs through your trash, all they will find are empty bottles and won't recognize the pills because they are hidden. 

In going with step number 3, the first thing I did was empty all of the expired medicine out of their bottles, then separated them into their own Ziplock bags.

The next thing I needed to do was mix them with an "undesirable substance." The FDA recommends kitty litter or used coffee grinds. Problem: I don't have cats and I don't drink coffee. So what was I supposed to mix them with? I googled some more, and came across the City of Scottsdale's drug disposal guidelines. They suggested kitty litter, coffee grinds, or dish soup - any type of foul mixture that would not be pleasant to the taste for animals. Luckily for me, I wash dishes (ha), so I had plenty of dish soap on hand. 

Here's the problem, though - it didn't cover up the medicine. It may have made them taste bad, but I didn't think tossing them in the trash like this would have really worked. But Scottsdale's web page   suggested making a "paste" out of the medicine by adding some water. So I added a little bit to lather it all up. I still felt like we needed to an "undesirable" substance to the medicine, though. So Danny suggested dirt. He went out into our backyard, grabbed a pile of it in a pail, and we mixed a handful of it in each bag.

I was scared the bags could burst open, so I bagged them all together in another bigger Ziplock bag. If you have a watertight container to put them into, I would probably go with that instead. 

Looks gross, right? I dumped them into Wal-Mart plastic bags for extra safety and then threw them away into the trash. 

Last but not least, before throwing out any of the containers/bottles, don't forget to scratch off the personal information on the label. It not only helps protect your identity, but it keeps anyone from knowing what was in there. 

I'm not entirely sure about mixing the medication into a paste like I did. Scottsdale's website suggested it, but the FDA's guideline did not. I'm assuming it's to help mask the fact that it's actually medicine since pills are too easily recognized (*see "updates" below for more information regarding this). If you have any information regarding this, please let me know. In the meantime I'm going to be checking up with my pharmacist for clarification and will include an update with what I find.

I will leave you with a few words of caution regarding drug disposal:

  • Do not use drugs past their expiration date, ever. Properly discard of them as soon as they are expired.
  • Never give unused medications to a friend. A drug that works for you could potentially endanger someone else's life.
  • If you have different medication other than pills, such as an asthma inhaler, ensure safe disposal by following the label instructions and contacting your local trash or recycling facility.
  • When in doubt, please contact your local pharmacist about proper medication disposal. 

If anyone has any tips or know-how on properly disposing of medications, please share! I would especially be interested in any "undesirable" substances you've used to dispose of them. As always, be safe. Medicine is not something to be ignored or tossed out carelessly.

Don't forget! April 27th, 2013 from 10am-2pm is National Take Back Day. Visit this webpage on April 1st to see if a site has been organized near your area.



3/28: On Facebook, I was informed that pharmacies, police stations and/or fire stations will have drop-offs open regularly. Check with the local ones in your ares to see if they have one set up, or if they schedule a certain time every month to do drop-offs!

3/29: I spoke with my pharmacist concerning mixing medicine into a paste. She informed me that it was fine. Just make sure you are still mixing an undesirable substance in the paste mixture, and that you throw it away - in the trash - in a leak-proof bag/container (do NOT flush it down the toilet).

3/29: If your pharmacy, police station, or fire station do not have drop-offs, I was also informed by a friend that you can check with your doctor and/or hospital - they might have available drop-offs for you to dispose of your medicine. This might be especially helpful if you have drop-offs for medicine such as needles and syringes.


Linking up: Design, Dining, and Diapers, 504 Main, Tatertots & Jello, Home Stories A to Z

share this on::






This entry was posted on Thursday, March 28 and is filed under ,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

8 Responses to “How To: Properly Disposing of Unused/Expired Medication”

  1. This is really interesting, Rachel!! I never would have thought of this!

  2. Wow, a lot of helpful info. and interesting tips!

  3. the fact that this never even crossed my mind and that i have thrown out expired medicine without thinking twice makes me feel super guilty. i'm so glad i've seen this now and i will bookmark this for future reference. thank you so much!

  4. What a great post, Rachel! This is really helpful info. I'm actually one of those that just hangs on to expired meds because I don't know what to do with them! I'll definitely check my local pharm to see if they accept drop offs. I'd love to clear out my medicine cabinet.

  5. I've actually taken mine to my regular doctor before and asked them to dispose of them. I don't know for sure, but I think hospitals might also be willing to take them. Also, did you know that expiration dates are often a bunch of bull? It's really just the pharmaceutical companies attempting to get more money out of you. Typically, the may just lose a little bit of potency over time. This is something I heard from a doctor I worked with on the psych unit at the hospital. That being said, I did just throw out some cough medicine and another liquid medicine. I figure it probably is more likely to do strange things over time. Otherwise, I used a lot of my expired meds (Tylenol, ibuprofen, etc.) Of course...feel free to be safe. And you and your med school hubs can decide what's best for you. ;)

  6. Makes me want to clean out my bathroom. Even though I don't have much medication lying around. I didn't think about disposing them a certain way. Oops!

  7. Wow! Great tips! I'm going to pin this when I get home. Thanks!

  8. this is a good info! thanks for sharing!