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Getting Rid of Leftover Medicine

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Q

How should I dispose of leftover medication? I don’t want to throw the bottle in the trash since it has my personal info on the label, and I wouldn’t want to harm the environment in any way from the medication itself.

A

To protect your medical privacy, remove the labels by peeling them off and ripping them up or by soaking them in water until they come off. Or blot out all personal information with a thick waterproof marker. Then, toss or recycle the empty container.

All over-the-counter medications (including pills, capsules, liquids, creams and inhalers) and most prescription medicines can be disposed of in your regular household trash. Remove the medication from its container, then mix it with used coffee grounds or cat litter in a plastic bag. Seal the bag and toss it in the trash. Do not crush the tablets or capsules since breathing in the dust can be dangerous, and be careful not to puncture inhalers since that will release medication or propellant and can be environmentally damaging.

The exceptions: Certain medications, such as the narcotics oxycodone and fentanyl, can be fatal even in small doses if accidentally ingested–by a child or pet, for example–so the FDA recommends getting rid of these medications quickly and in a way that prevents accidental poisoning.

What to do: You can flush these meds–in all forms such as tablets, skin patches and liquids–down the toilet. (Fold used skin patches in half with sticky sides together to be sure children or pets can’t access them.) The FDA says that the risk to the environment is low, but if you’re concerned, bring excess medicine to a DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) authorized collection center or look for a take-back program. Your local pharmacy or police station also might have a drug take-back program. For a complete list of medications that should be flushed or brought to a collection center, visit the FDA website. The medication label may also have information on safe disposal.

The DEA hosts occasional National Prescription Drug Take-Back events in communities nationwide specifically for the safe disposal of medications. To find the next date and the collection center nearest you, visit the DEA website. And while you’re waiting for such an event, be sure to store these medications safely away so you (or others) don’t take them accidentally.

Finally, some states allow you to donate sealed, unexpired prescription medications—check the website for details specific to your state. And your local homeless shelter may accept sealed and unexpired over-the-counter medicines (such as aspirin or cold medications).

Source: Jack M. Rosenberg, PharmD, PhD, professor emeritus of pharmacy practice and pharmacology, Long Island University, Brooklyn, and consultant, Advanstar Communications. Date: December 14, 2018
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