Medical News Today: How to safely dispose of medication

Follow any disposal instructions provided for prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicine.

If there are no specific instructions on how to dispose of it, people can take the following steps, depending on the situation:

Using a drug take back location

The best option for disposing of most types of unused medication is to take it to a DEA-registered drug collection location. Once people drop medication off at a registered site, trained handlers will dispose of it safely.

People can find their nearest drop-off location, through an internet search or via the DEA website.

Drop-off locations will dispose of:

  • prescription medicine
  • OTC medicine
  • dietary supplements

It is a good idea to remove all personal details, such as a name and address label, from the medication before dropping it off.

Flushing medication

Some drugs need immediate disposal as they can cause harm to others. If no drug take back facility is available, the FDA recommend that people flush these types of medicines down the toilet.

The FDA recommend that people flush medications containing the following ingredients straight away:

  • acetaminophen
  • benzhydrocodone
  • buprenorphine
  • diazepam
  • fentanyl
  • hydrocodone
  • hydromorphone
  • meperidine
  • methadone
  • methylphenidate
  • morphine
  • oxycodone
  • oxymorphone
  • sodium oxybate
  • tapentadol

Fentanyl patches, in particular, can cause harm to anyone who has not received a prescription for them.

Fentanyl patches provide powerful pain relief medication through the skin. A significant amount of the drug remains in the patch even after use, so it could cause harm to a child or another person who picks it up by accident. Fentanyl comes with instructions on how to flush used and surplus patches safely.

The FDA believe the potential risks of improperly disposed of medication, which can be fatal if used accidentally, outweigh the potential impact on the environment.

In a 2017 study, researchers looked at the effects of medications on the FDA’s flush list entering water supplies. The results showed all drugs on the list posed an insignificant risk for both the environment and human health when flushed.

According to the FDA, a more considerable amount of drug waste enters water supplies due to medicines passing through the body and entering the waterways through human waste.

Putting medications in the trash

If there are no drug take back facilities locally and the medication does not contain any instructions about safe disposal, and they are not on the flush list, it is safe to dispose of most drugs in the trash by:

  • taking the medications out of their packaging
  • mixing the medication with a substance that will deter children and animals, such as dirt, cat litter, or coffee grounds
  • taking care not to crush any tablets or capsules
  • placing the medicine in a sealed plastic bag or another sealed container
  • throwing the container into the trash
  • recycling the empty medicine bottle or packaging, taking care to obscure any personal information first

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