Is your medicine cabinet crammed with expired over-the-counter medications and leftover prescription drugs? If so, it is easy to dispose of them safely.
Recently, as part of my household decluttering and minimizing project, I cleared out and then cleaned our bathroom medicine cabinets, drawers, and cupboards. During this process, I used a cardboard box to collect expired over-the-counter medications like cough syrup and allergy pills and prescription drugs left over from my treatment for breast cancer.
Flushing these medications down the toilet or tossing them in the trash did not seem like an environmentally friendly disposal method so I searched online for a solution.
I learned about how keeping expired and unneeded medications on hand can be dangerous for people in your household and how flushing medications down the toilet can contaminate water and harm aquatic wildlife.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could safely dispose of my unwanted medications at the pharmacy in the small town where I live, so that is what I did.
It was easy. I took my cardboard medication collection box to the pharmacy, gave it to one of the store clerks, and she dumped it in the medication disposal kiosk.
You too can keep yourself and your family (including pets) safe by periodically clearing out your medicine cabinet of expired and leftover medications and disposing of them in a safe and environmentally friendly way.
Why Should You Get Rid of Expired and Leftover Medications?
It may seem like having expired and leftover medications in your medicine cabinet in no big deal. However, it could be.
Here are some reasons for getting rid of unneeded medications.
- Taking someone else’s medication on purpose or accidentally ingesting it can lead to overdose, poisoning, and even death (even things like cough syrup can be abused). Anyone with access to your medicine cabinet including visitors can take your medications.
- Unintentionally taking expired medications or mixing incompatible medications can be harmful.
- A cluttered medicine cabinet makes it more difficult to find the current and correct medications you may need.
Why not Flush Medications down the Toilet or Toss them in the Trash?
You may not realize that wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals flushed down the toilet or drain. These substances can pass through the water treatment process and end up in lakes, streams, oceans, aquifers, and groundwater. Traces of painkillers, antibiotics, hormones, anti-depressants, and other drugs can harm aquatic wildlife and even end up in your drinking water.
Medications tossed in the trash can present problems too. People and pets can retrieve them either on purpose or accidentally. Medications that are sent landfills can leach into the soil and cause contamination.
With a little effort, you can get rid of your unwanted medications without flushing them down the toilet or tossing them in the trash.
Medication Disposal Programs
Although, there is no national medication disposal program, there are programs all across the country. Partnerships between pharmacies, municipal waste management authorities, and law enforcement agencies make these programs possible.
This is how they work.
Programs do vary by municipality, county, or state but usually involve going to a pharmacy, police station, or other location and putting your medications in a collection kiosk or obtaining a special envelope and mailing them to a collection facility.
There may be special handling requirements for disposing of controlled substances (medications that require a paper prescription, like Vicodin).
After being collected through these various programs, unwanted medications are picked up and transported to waste facilities where they are destroyed, often by being incinerated.
National Take-Back Initiative
The DEA Diversion Control Division offers periodic take-back events where you can drop off your medications at a designated location on a specific day.
The next national event is scheduled for Saturday, April 29, 2017, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
After April 1, you can visit the National Take-Back Initiative website to search for a drop-off location near you.
I hope that you are convinced that clearing out your medicine cabinet and getting rid of expired and leftover medications is a good idea and that disposing of them in an environmentally safe manner is worth a little extra effort.
- California Product Stewardship Council – Pharmaceuticals
- Don’t Rush to Flush
- Drugging the Environment, by Megan Scudellari, The Scientist, 08/01/15
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Diversion Control Division – Resources
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Collecting and Disposing of Unwanted Medicines
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration – Medicine Disposal: Questions and Answers