Is your medicine cabinet full of medications you no longer use? What do you do with unused prescription pills? When they are expired or no longer needed, it’s vital to dispose of medicines properly. Today, we’ll walk through the dos and don’ts of medication disposal.
Why You Should Dispose of Unused Medicine
In the wake of America’s opioid epidemic, it’s more important than ever to properly dispose of unused prescription medications. Addiction to these pills leads to tens of thousands of deaths each year, and a recent study conducted by Stericycle – a medical disposal company – indicates that friends and family members are often the source of these drugs. One in ten respondents admitted to giving their medications to family members and friends for medical or recreational use.
“This sharing of medications goes underreported because people may have concerns about their privacy… I do think it’s pretty common,” said Dr. Joseph Ladapo, an internist at UCLA Health, in an interview with Healthline. “I’ve spoken with patients who have engaged in that activity. I’ve heard people say they have offered [these medications] out of kindness. I don’t think this is a problem of ill intent. I think many people probably mean well.”
Beyond intentional sharing of one’s prescriptions, there is also the issue of old pills being pilfered from a family member’s medicine cabinet. Current estimates indicate that about two out of three people who abuse opioids obtain them at some point from a friend or family member, usually without their knowledge.
What Not to Do
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to proper pill disposal is one of education. While 86% of survey respondents said that they were comfortable asking their doctor or pharmacist about how to dispose of unused drugs, two-thirds did not know whether their pharmacy allowed them to return unused medicine. Others said that they threw old pills into the garbage, which isn’t always advisable either – many people go through others’ trash looking for exactly this.
It’s also a common belief that one should flush medicine down the toilet, but this can have an environmental impact as the drugs dissolve and enter the public water supply. While this is permitted under certain circumstances, it should not be a first resort unless you have no other option.
FDA Guidelines for Medication Disposal
The FDA provides specific guidelines for how to properly dispose of old, expired, unused, or unwanted medicine.
First, consider participating in a drug take-back program. Many organizations, such as local law enforcement, will host big drug take-back days where you can drop off medications – no questions asked. You can also reach out to your local city or county government’s household trash and recycling services to inquire about other local take-back programs near you. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s website contains information about national take-back events.
Many pharmacies will take back your unused or expired medications – call yours to ask about this policy today.
If a take-back program isn’t available, the FDA provides guidelines for how medication can be disposed of in household trash. As long as local laws permit this type of disposal, you can mix – not crush – medicines with an “unpalatable substance” like cat litter or used coffee grounds, then seal this mixture inside a plastic bag. Before throwing away a pill bottle or other container, be sure to scratch out all information on the label to make it illegible.
Some medications, such as fentanyl, carry an extreme risk of fatal overdose from even minimal exposure. These will usually include specific disposal instructions in the product’s Information for Patients and Caregivers leaflet. Some of these are on a “flush list” approved by the FDA, which has judged that the immediate risk of overdose or death is more significant than any environmental impact from these select medicines.
Sharps disposal has its own set of guidelines. Loose needles and sharp objects should not be disposed of in household or public trash receptacles. They should also never be flushed down the toilet. These practices put public workers at risk of harm. Instead, be sure to always place needles and other sharps in a special sharps container.
If you have any questions about how to properly dispose of your prescription medications, you may reference the DEA and FDA websites or call your pharmacist for more information.
There is Hope for Prescription Pill Addiction
BRC Recovery offers the complete continuum of care for the treatment-resistant, from detoxification to long-term treatment services. If you or a loved one need help with addiction to prescription medications, we can help. Call 1-866-461-1759 today.