What to Do With Old Medications

Most of us have them: Old prescription bottles in the back of the medicine cabinet with a few leftover pills or a little liquid in the bottom. We’re never going to take that medicine, but we can’t think of a safe way to get rid of it. This is the month to do it, because October 28 is National Prescription Take Back Day, which highlights the need to dispose of old meds sensibly. The thing is, you don’t need a special day to get rid of them; you can do it any time. Here’s how:

  • Check your drug label. Some medications have specific disposal instructions printed on the label.
  • If there are no instructions on the label, go to the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) website at
    www.DEAdiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal or call 800-882-9539 to find a DEA-approved disposal center near you.
  • If there are no disposal locations near you, contact your pharmacy or law enforcement officials to see if they can tell you where you may dispose of the medications.
  • Some medications can be disposed of in your household trash, but not without some care. Before putting medications into your trash, follow these steps:
  1. In a plastic bag (preferably sealable), mix the medicines with an unpalatable substance, such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds. Add a little water to dissolve solids.
  2. Tightly tape the bag closed.
  3. Throw the container in your household trash.
  4. Scratch out all personal information on the prescription label and throw away the bottle as well.

While it was once common to flush medications, that method of disposal is controversial. Still, the FDA recommends certain drugs should be flushed to ensure they do not get recovered after disposal. To see a list of those drugs, search “FDA flush medication” in your Internet browser.

To learn more about National Prescription Take Back Day, click here.

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