Safe Disposal of Unwanted / Unused Medications

Anyone who’s ever taken prescription medicines has had to deal with the problem of how to dispose of unwanted or expired medications. There are several dangers to improper disposal or not disposing of them at all:

  1. Risk of accidental poisoning children or pets
  2. Chance of them being taken and misused by teens or adults
  3. Risk of accidentally taking the wrong medicine, too much of the same treatment, or too old to work correctly. This last risk is a particular concern for seniors living alone.

You may think it’s OK to flush them down the toilet or the drain. But did you know that medications disposed of this way can get into the water supply and end up in our drinking water? Even if flushed into a system serviced by waste treatment plants, the water treatment plants that filter out sediment and other chemicals are not equipped to remove traces of these dangerous medications.
So how do you dispose of unwanted medications properly? Here are two recommendations from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

Please bring them to a drug takeback event

The DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) holds drug takeback events nationwide to collect unwanted medications. However, these events are currently just held once a year. More information about this program can be found on the DEA website.

Please drop them off at an authorized medication collector location

Many locations can collect unused medicines and provide drop boxes for that purpose. Several ways to find these locations:

Note that these dropboxes do NOT accept “sharps” – needles, razor blades, and the like – and some may not take liquid medications.

Household Disposal

Bringing unused medications to an authorized Dropbox is always recommended if possible. However, if there are no authorized collectors near you or you cannot travel to the nearest one, you can dispose of unused medicines at home as long as you take the proper precautions. The EPA recommends the following steps:

  1. Remove the medications from their original containers
  2. Mix with a toxic substance like cat litter or used coffee grounds
  3. Put this mixture into a disposable container that can be securely closed, like a plastic container with a snap-on lid or a sealable plastic storage bag.
  4. Remove any personal information – name, phone, prescription number, name of the medication – from the labels on the original containers by writing over them with a permanent marker. Please put them in the container with the drug mixture.
  5. You can now safely dispose of the container in the trash

For More Information:

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – “How to dispose of unused medicines”
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) – Drug Disposal Information

Helping seniors dispose of medications safely is just one of the many services provided by experienced caregivers from Cahoon Care Associates. If you or a loved one in the greater Boston or Bar Harbor area is considering professional home care services, please call us to learn how we can help you or to schedule a complimentary in-home assessment.