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Disposing of Expired Medication Responsibly

how to dispose of medications

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Pharmacology is wonderful stuff with how Rx medications can restore people’s health or maintain quality of life. Some of them are indeed life-saving drugs, although for the average person who’s had to have a prescription filled recently it’s nothing so serious. You will still be taking that medication as directed, and often that will mean finishing the medication as directed. This is especially true for bacterial infections in order to make sure the bug is entirely KO’d. If not, people may want to know how to dispose of medications responsibly.

Responsible is the key word there, because as most of us hopefully know you should almost always NOT flush expired medication down the toilet. And placing the pills tablets or even bottles of unfinished medication into the trash can is irresponsible too, because in both instances medication can get into groundwater. There’s more about why you don’t throw medication and the connection to how to dispose of medications responsibly, but the best way is to keep them in your home and then simply return them to the pharmacist the next time you get a prescription filled.

Many Americans are getting their medications online from Canada, and if you are that means you won’t be visiting a storefront pharmacy. Likely a smart choice if you can find your medication for less with a pharmacy that is able to fill US prescriptions in Canada, and that’s us. You can still save up your expired meds or drugs you don’t need anymore and keep them in a place where they are out of reach until it’s convenient to stop by a pharmacy to get rid of them.

Where can I dispose of medication? There are many supermarkets with pharmacies around America now and - if not - how often is there a Walgreen’s or CVS in the same complex?

Make the List?

The reason we emphasized the word almost for always when it comes to not putting meds down the drain is that there are some medications that you can flush down the toilet. The US FDA actually has a Rx Drugs flush list and knowing which drugs can go in the toilet is part of how to dispose of medications. Have a look at the list and you’ll see some very notable classes of drugs that can be flushed where you might have guessed they wouldn’t be. Powerful and potentially addictive opioid painkiller medications like Oxycontin, Percocet, and Percodan are on the list, as we as some drugs that contain fentanyl.

To get on this list medications must be determined to have a negligible risk to the environment, and so it surprising to learn of some of the medications you’ll see there. Still, if it is at all possible you should bring old medication back to the pharmacy for how to dispose of medications. The painkiller medications we talked about just now are a big part of the reason municipal governments prefer that you flush some drugs rather than putting them in the trash. Obviously if these drugs get into the hands of people who should not be taking them there is the potential for great harm.

Another consideration for how to dispose of medications is the disposal of asthma inhalers. Not all drugs are taken as tablets, although with inhalers, insulin, and disposal of epipens it is not likely the medication will need to be disposed of before being used. There may be epi pens that have expired, and these should go back to the pharmacy when you have a chance.

Have to Trash?

So, there will be situations where people cannot flush drugs down the toilet or go back to a pharmacy to return unused medications. In these situations you can put medication in the garbage, but you must be responsible about it. Where can I dispose of medication? When putting drugs in the trash you must follow this protocol and it is part of how to dispose of medications responsibly.

  • Remove the medication from original containers
  • Scratch out all identifying information that can be seen on the prescription label
  • Put the medication in something unappealing. Examples can be ripe food garbage, coffee grounds, or pet litter.
  • Place mixture in a closed paper bag to prevent the contents coming out of the bag

The last thing we’ll say around how to dispose of medications responsibly is that some communities will have a take-back program where you can have your unused medication collected and properly disposed of.


IMPORTANT NOTE: The above information is intended to increase awareness of health information and does not suggest treatment or diagnosis. This information is not a substitute for individual medical attention and should not be construed to indicate that use of the drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. See your health care professional for medical advice and treatment.


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