Disposing of your expired or unused medications gets a whole lot easier (and safer) this weekend

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Assistant Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Saturday, April 29th is National Drug Take Back Day, which means you can drop off any unused or expired medication no questions asked. It’s easy to lose track of medications, especially if you’re caring for someone else. But if those medications fall into the wrong hands — say, a child or a pet — one dose could be fatal. So, it’s better to dispose of your excess medication in a way that is safe to both those around you and to the environment.

Why does it matter how you dispose of your prescriptions?

Prescription drug abuse is a big problem right now, and even something as small as correctly disposing of your medications can help keep that under control. According to the Health and Human Services Department, almost 2,000 people in Massachusetts died from opioid overdoses in 2016.

Use this link to find the drop-off location nearest you. Collections will begin Saturday morning at 10 am and end at 2 pm.

What if there is no collection site near you?

Most medication can be thrown in the trash, but there are some things you can do to make sure no one finds them once they’ve been discarded.

  1. Mix the medications with something that tastes terrible, like cat litter or coffee grounds.
  2. Place this unsavory concoction in a sealed bag or an empty can so that it doesn’t leak.
  3. Throw the whole container in the trash.

Also, make sure you mark out any personal information on your prescription bottles with a permanent marker to ensure the privacy of yourself and your health records.

These tips don’t apply to strong painkillers or sedatives, so the FDA recommends you flush those medications down the toilet. While that is not the best solution for the environment, it’s better than any accidental fatalities. You may have received instructions for disposal when you picked up your prescription, so check that before flushing. If you would like to know if your medication should be dropped off at a collection site on National Drug Take Back Day or flushed down the toilet, check this list.


The Opioid Crisis in America

Register for this free, self-paced course here

Every day in the United States more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for not using prescription opioids as directed. In 2015 more than 30,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids. This course challenges preconceptions about who can become addicted to opioids, attempts to reduce the stigma that exists around addiction in general, and to help people learn about the multiple pathways to treatment.

Related Information: Harvard Health Letter