Saturday, May 23, 2009

How to Dispose of Unused Medicines

Is your medicine cabinet filled with expired drugs or medications you no longer use? How should you dispose of them?

Most drugs can be thrown in the household trash, but consumers should take certain precautions before tossing them out, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A few drugs should be flushed down the toilet. And a growing number of community-based "take-back" programs offer another safe disposal alternative.

Here are some guidelines for disposal:

FDA worked with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to develop the first consumer guidance for proper disposal of prescription drugs. Issued by ONDCP in February 2007, the federal guidelines are summarized here:

  • Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
  • If no instructions are given, throw the drugs in the household trash, but first:
    • Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
    • Put them in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
  • Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government's household trash and recycling service (see blue pages in phone book) to see if a take-back program is available in your community.

FDA's Director of Pharmacy Affairs, Ilisa Bernstein, Pharm.D., J.D., offers some additional tips:

  • Before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.
  • Do not give medications to friends. Doctors prescribe drugs based on a person's specific symptoms and medical history. A drug that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.
  • When in doubt about proper disposal, talk to your pharmacist.
For more information:

For Federal Guidelines: