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[HOW-TO] Properly Dispose of Old or Expired Prescription Medications

Every year the Drug Enforcement Agency, in cooperation with local police, sheriff departments, and other agencies, organize a “take-back” prescription drug day. This year, April 28, 2018,  from 10 am to 2 pm will be the day to bring in your unused or expired medications for proper disposal to a collection site near you.

Just like an annual spring cleaning, this is an ideal way to clean out the medicine cabinet. This is particularly important if you or a family member has old prescriptions of opioids or other highly addictive medications in your house.

(RELATED: Why the Opioid Epidemic Impacts More Women Than Men)

If you don’t think you’ll make the drug take-back day, here’s how to properly dispose of old or expired prescriptions, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

  • Follow any specific disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanies the medicine. Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so. Some medications can contaminate surface water which runs into rivers and streams.
  • Transfer unused medicines to collectors registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Authorized sites may be retail, hospital or clinic pharmacies, and law enforcement locations. Some offer mail-back programs or collection receptacles (“drop-boxes”). Visit the DEA’s website or call 1-800-882-9539 for more information and to find an authorized collector in your community.

(RELATED: Opioids Not the Best Option for Chronic Pain and Migraines)

If no disposal instructions are given on the prescription drug labeling and no take-back program is available in your neighborhood, throw the drugs in the household trash following these steps:

  1. Remove them from their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds, dirt or kitty litter (this makes the drug less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through the trash seeking drugs).
  2. Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or another container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.

FDA’s Lisa Bernstein, PharmD, JD, offers a few more tips:

  • Scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.
  • Do not give your medicine to friends. Doctors prescribe medicines based on your specific symptoms and medical history. Something that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.
  • When in doubt about proper disposal, ask your pharmacist.

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