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

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You may think it’s just OK to flush them down the toilet or the drain. But did you know that medications disposed of in 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 simply 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):

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.

Drop them off at an authorized medication collector location

There are many locations that are authorized to collect unused medicines, and that provide dropboxes just 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 accept liquid medications.

Household Disposal

It’s always recommended to bring unused medications to an authorized dropbox if possible. However, if there are no authorized collectors near you or you are unable to 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 noxious 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. 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 the 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 give us a call to learn how we can help you or to schedule a complimentary in-home assessment.

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