Disposing of Unused and Expired Medications: A Practical Guide to Summer Cleaning

By http://www.newlondonspecialtypharmacy.com/author/
September 8, 2014

The summer is over and with fall not so slowly creeping up, it makes for a great time for some end of summer cleaning. This is particularly important for any old, unwanted, and unused medications. Disposing of medications safely and properly can be confusing. Perhaps you have heard a few different methods to do so already.

Let us help you find the correct way to dispose of your unused and/or expired medications.

Below are some common myths and correct guidelines.

Myth #1: Medications are to be stored in the medication cabinet in the bathroom.

False! Why? In most homes, a medicine cabinet can be found in the bathroom, however the storage condition is very poor for medication. Medications (pills, ointments, creams) require a cool, dry place at room temperature unless indicated otherwise (i.e. refrigeration). Bathrooms tend to get moist, hot, and humid, which could lead to more frequent changes in temperature.

The solution: Store your medications in cool, dry place away from heat, light, and humidity (i.e. away from stove in the kitchen, and not in the bathroom).  Be sure to also keep your medications in a safe place, away and out of reach of children and pets.

Myth #2: If I have old or extra prescription medications, I can just flush all the pills down the toilet.

False! There are many medications that can potentially lead to a contaminated water supply. In order to prevent unnecessary water contamination, do NOT flush your medications unless the packaging specifically indicates you may.

The solution: With certain medications, such as certain narcotics, you can flush them down the toilet to prevent misuse and abuse. How do you know if your medication should be flushed? If it is not already indicated on the prescription label, you can find FDA’s list of recommended medications to be flushed here:


Myth #3: It is okay and completely safe to still use my expired medication.

False! As a general rule of practice, it is not safe to use medications past their beyond use date as the medication may degrade quickly. Medication expiration or beyond use dates are typically written on the label as the month/year. If it the label states 11/2014, then the medication expires on November 30th, 2014, unless otherwise specified.

The solution: Properly dispose of expired medication.

Disposal Guidelines:

  • Check all of your prescription bottle labels first
  • Check for the name and make sure it is your medication.
  • Check all of your prescription bottle labels, over the counter medications and general medications for the expiration or "beyond use" date.

Once you have gathered all of the unused and expired medications you have a few options:

  1. Turn in the medication to a Medication Take Back Program: Medication take back programs are a great way to safely dispose of unwanted and unused medications, particularly controlled substances. Check with your local pharmacies, government offices (i.e. police department), mail-back programs, and recycle/waste disposal services for when the next drug take back day is in your community.

All prescription medications (including controlled substances) can be given back at NYC Sanitation safe disposal events.

Additionally, the DEA has National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, which is another day you can return any and all unwanted, expired, and unused medications you can check for your local listing here: http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/index.html

2. If you are unable to locate a medication take back program near you and you need to get rid of your unwanted, unused, and expired medications, you may dispose of medications in household waste.

First, check your prescription bottle label (name, expiration date, etc).  Is it on the "flushable" medication list? (See above myth #2).

Over the counter items can be disposed of in the trash in the manner outlined here:

Sharps: If you need to dispose of sharp objects like needles please click here for information on proper disposal in a sharps container, do NOT throw these items away in the trash.

For all other medications, here's a general check list for how to properly dispose of them in household trash:

  • Remove all the unwanted, unused, expired medications from their bottle and pour into a plastic container (old coffee container) or a plastic bag.
  • Mix kitty litter or coffee grounds (or anything that mixes with the pills and makes the medication less desirable) into the container/plastic bag holding the pills to make them undesirable and prevent abuse and misuse.
  • Seal the bag/container and throw into the garbage.

What do you do with the leftover prescription bottles?

  • After following step 3, be sure to clearly mark out ALL of your personal identifying information on the prescription bottle label (name, address, etc.) and then dispose of them appropriately.

With more and more households keeping a growing number of medications at home, including expired medications, unintentional access by others to those medications (including controlled substances) becomes a growing concern. Thus, safe and proper disposal of medications becomes all the more crucial. Be sure to play your part and dispose of your unused, unwanted, and expired medications safely to help prevent medication misuse/abuse and environmental contamination. Happy cleaning!


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