How to Dispose of Prescription Medications

More young people die each year from prescription drug overdoses than from all illicit drugs combined. Yes, street drugs kill fewer people! Street drugs include methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, and inhalants. This is why it’s important to dispose of unneeded prescription medications as soon as possible. The medicine cabinet is the first place drug abusers look. Adults should immediately dispose of unneeded prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as those pills in the bedroom, refrigerator and in kitchen cabinets. Pills and prescription drugs that are easily accessible at home also pose a serious health risk to children.

Prescription medications

Instructions for disposing of old prescription medications

1. Inspect the labels of your prescription drugs. Many times there will be disposal instructions that will tell you how to properly get rid of them. If your prescription / over-the-counter drugs have a missing label or don’t provide instructions skip to #2.

2. Many times local law enforcement agencies have drug take-back programs. For example, some departments may follow the Save A Star Drug Awareness Foundation program where they will dispose of medications for you or provide the location of a disposal container. You can contact your local law enforcement agency’s non-emergency information number to ask them about this. You can also call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service (see blue pages in phone book). An alternative to this is to call a local pharmacy and ask them what the procedures are for disposing of medications.

3. If you want to dispose of prescription medications yourself the best solution according to the FDA does not include flushing them down the toilet or down the sink unless your prescription label instructs you to do so. This is because of possible environmental contamination certain drugs may cause. Their recommendation is to place loose medication (remove individual pills from blister packs) inside a sealed plastic bag combined with undesirable refuse like coffee grounds or cat litter. The sealed bag can then be thrown into the regular trash. Combining the pills with undesirable refuse may deter someone from picking through your trash from obtaining the medication. Wash your hands thoroughly when finished.

4. Make sure to destroy all medication labels to prevent identity theft before throwing them into the trash can. You can do this by scratching off the labels. Wash-out old medication containers before depositing them in the trash. Some medications may leave a residue or powder that can be harmful. Liquid forms of medication may also leave behind residue.

The best way to dispose of prescription medications to prevent trash pickers from obtaining them

The best way to dispose of prescription medications is to follow the FDA’s guidelines, but you can add an additional step by destroying the pills themselves. One way to do this is to place the medication inside a durable, sealed plastic bag and then double bag the pills. You can do this without adding any undesirable refuse at first. Take your doubled and sealed bags containing the medication to a solid concrete surface. For example, a concrete garage floor works well. Using a hammer or other blunt instrument you can smash the pills inside the bags. Tip: You can place a towel over the bags to help prevent ripping the bags and rubber gloves are recommended. Once finished, you can combine the crushed pills with other refuse. This will help prevent trash pickers from obtaining medications from your garbage. Wash your hands thoroughly when finished.


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