Safely spring clean your medicine cabinets

Medicine disposal

There are proper ways to get rid of medicine to help protect you and others.

What to do with expired medicine

According to Consumer Reports magazine, manufacturers are required by law to include the expiration date on medication. The expiration date indicates when the potency and safety of the drug can no longer be verified.1 A study by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that most medicines are safe to take after the expiration date, but the strength of the drug may decrease over time. There are exceptions however. You should never take tetracycline, liquid medicines such as nitroglycerin, insulin, liquid antibiotics or injectable drugs such as epinephrine, past expiration dates.2

Proper disposal methods

If you are tossing out old medicine, know what disposal options are out there. Following these tips will help keep everyone in your household safe, including any children or pets: 

  • In-person disposal services: In many cities, designated pharmacies, police departments, chemical recycling facilities and fire stations are safe places to get rid of any unused or expired medications. You can check for a disposal center near you with Dispose My Meds™ location service.
  • Drug My Meds Take Back programs: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) organizes National Prescription Drug Take Back Days throughout the year. The goal is to have a safe and convenient way for people to dispose of medications. You can view days and participating locations at DEA National Rx Take Back
  • Household trash: If you can’t get to an in-person drop-off location, tossing medicines in the trash is fine. However, it’s important to follow these suggestions: 
    • Mix or hide them in coffee grounds, kitty litter, ashes or dirt. 
    • Keep the childproof caps screwed tightly on. 
    • Scratch out any personal information on the label. 
    • Put them inside another secure container that you can’t see through. 
    • Put them in the trash on the day of garbage pickup.

What about flushing medicine down the toilet

While the FDA says it is ok to flush dangerous drugs down the toilet, know that some parts of the drug may end up in our water supply and be harmful for the environment. Flushing should really be the last resort and only if it is necessary.3

Sharps waste and disposal

Special care must be taken to dispose of sharps waste. Based on your therapy, pharmacies, medical supply companies, healthcare providers and online services can provide the correct size and type of container. Check with the manufacturer or local waste collection services for details of their disposal procedures. Find out more about sharps disposal and safety measures.

Sources:

  1. “The Problem with Expired Medication,” Consumer Reports, last accessed February 25, 2019, https://www.consumerreports.org/drug-safety/the-problem-with-expired-medication/.
  2. “Drug Expiration Dates—Do They Mean Anything?,” Harvard Health Publishing, last accessed February 25, 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/drug-expiration-dates-do-they-mean-anything.
  3. “The Problem with Expired Medication.”