Harvard Health Publications

Get rid of your old drugs this Saturday

Posted By Patrick J. Skerrett On April 29, 2011

Is your medicine cabinet, refrigerator, or pill drawer overflowing with unused or expired medications? Don’t know how to get rid of them? Here’s an easy way: tomorrow (Saturday, April 30) between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, hand over your old prescription and over-the-counter drugs at one of 5,300 sites across the country. (Click here to find a site near you.)

The program is part of the second National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). During last year’s take-back, the participating police stations, hospitals, and other sites collected more than 242,000 pounds of drugs.

If you miss the take-back program, and need to clean out your medicine cabinet, here’s what the FDA recommends for most drugs:

  • Take the medication out of its original container, mix it with used coffee grounds, kitty litter, or dirt, and put this unappetizing blend in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid or in a sealable plastic bag. Put the container or bag into your regular garbage.
  • Scratch off the prescription label and any identifying information from the original container to protect your identity and the privacy of your health record, and recycle or dispose of the container.

This advice doesn’t apply to strong painkillers and sedatives. If you can’t find a take-back program, the FDA says to flush these drugs down the toilet. Although that isn’t the ideal solution—medications flushed down the toilet can eventually make their way into rivers, lakes, and drinking water supplies—it will limit the number of tragedies that happen when children, pets, and other living creatures get into unused medications. The FDA’s Web site provides a list of the 25 “flush-only” drugs as well as more information on disposing unwanted medications.

Leftover drugs pose a problems for people and the environment. (An article in the June 2011 Harvard Health Letter will look at the growing problem of drugs in our water supplies.) Take advantage of the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day by giving yours to the DEA—an organization that has had lots of practice safely disposing drugs.

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