Properly Disposing of Unused Medications
Spring cleaning brings the opportunity to clean out unused and unwanted medicines that collect over time, just like old clothes from the closet or old food from the fridge.
We all know the annual tradition of spring cleaning, but what we may not know how essential it is to clean out and organize an important part of our home—the medicine cabinet.
Leaving unused medications in accessible areas often leaves individuals and their families at risk for misuse or potential overdose, and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health for 2016 found that unused prescription drugs were the most common source of misuse and diversion in teens.1 According to BlueCross Blueshield’s partnership with Drugfree.org, approximately 4 in 10 teens who have misused or abused a prescription drug obtained it from their parent’s medicine cabinet.2
Using leftover medications to self-medicate is common for patients who do not feel they need to see a doctor. This is not advised, since medications might not be effective after their expiration date. It is especially important to avoid this practice with essential medications such as blood pressure pills or blood sugar-lowering agents, which protect patients from life-threatening conditions such as heart attack or stroke.
Unused medications can be dangerous to be consumed accidentally, resulting in calls to poison control centers, hospitalization or even death. In order to follow proper precautions when disposing of old or unused medications, please follow these steps:
If you do not have the drug disposal information for the drug or a drug take-back program in your area you can3:
- Remove the medicine from its original container, mix it with an undesirable substance such as coffee grounds or kitty litter, place it in a sealable bag or other container to keep it from leaking, then dispose of it through a garbage bag.
- Flush the medicine down the sink or toilet. Certain communities prohibit this practice in order to prevent trace levels of drug residue found in rivers, lakes, and community drinking water supplies.
Some additional tips:
- Scratch out all identifying information on the prescription drug to make it unreadable. This ensures that your identity and your personal health information remains protected.
- Do not share your prescription drugs, since they were prescribed to you.
In an effort to draw attention to the need for proper precautions, drug disposal company DisposeRX founded a new National Clean Out Your Medicine Cabinet Day, which is being recognized today. The day is an opportunity to clean out unused and unwanted medicines that collect over time, just like old clothes from the closet or spoiled food from the fridge.
The DEA-founded National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, which also encourages consumers to properly dispose of medications, will be recognized April 27, 2019.
- Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. National Survey on Drug Use and Health website. Accessed April 18, 2019. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.pdf
- Spring Clean Your Medicine Cabinet! Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. https://health.gov/news/blog/2018/03/spring-clean-your-medicine-cabinet/. Posted March 20, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2019.
- How to Properly Dispose of your Unused Medicines [flyer]. DEA website. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/201810/Proper%20Disposal%20Flier%20%28October%202018%29.pdf. Accessed April 18, 2019.