How Should I Get Rid Of My Old Medicines?

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Food and drink
Medication Safety

In the past, Poison Centers have recommended just flushing those old unwanted or expired drugs down the toilet or putting them down the sink.  These recommendations were made specifically to prevent accidental ingestion and poisoning of children and pets.  Studies over the past several years though have shown this might not be such a good idea.  Measurable amounts of some drugs such as antibiotics, hormones, cardiac medications and others are showing up in our nation’s waterways.  Water treatment plants are unable to remove these compounds before they reach the environment.  Throwing medications away with the trash may cause less pollution, but there is that risk that other people or animals may get hold of it.  Privacy may also be a concern if containers have labels with names and other personal information.

The following recommendations may take more time and effort from caregivers than simple flushing, but they will prevent accidental poisonings as well as lessen the environmental impact of these drugs on the environment.

  • Where available, take expired or unwanted medications to pharmacy or public health sponsored medication disposal sites.
  • If a medication disposal program is not available in your area, the unwanted or expired medicine may be thrown away in the trash by following these steps:
    • Liquids should be poured over paper towels, kitty litter, or coffee grounds and tightly wrapped in sealable or watertight containers or bags.
    • Solids (pills, capsules, tablets) should be placed into a sealable or water tight container or bag and add a small amount of water to at least partly dissolve them.  You might want to add an undesirable substance like coffee grounds or kitty litter so that they are less likely to be eaten.
    • Place the container inside a package such as a box that doesn’t show what’s inside.
    • Put the medication in the trash as close to pick up time as possible-do not place in recycling bins.

Note: The FDA advises the following drugs be flushed down the toilet and not thrown in the trash:

Actiq (fentanly citrate)
Zerit for Oral Solution (stavudine)
Tequin (gatifloxacin)
Meperidine HCL tablets
Duragesic Transdermal Patch (fentanyl)
Avinza (morphine sulfate)
Xyrem (sodium oxybate)
Reyataz (atanzanavir sulfate)
Oxycontin (xxycodone)
Fentora (fentanyl buccal tablet)
Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen)
Daytrana Transdermal Patch (methylphenidate)

Always refer to the printed material accompanying medication for specific instructions.