How to Dispose of Unused Medication

pillsIf you have leftover or unused medications, you must dispose of them safely. The advice for many years was simply to flush away old prescriptions. But experts no longer think it wise to flush medications down the toilet or put them in household trash. It’s also unwise to leave unneeded medications around, because children or others may accidentally ingest or misuse them.

Why You Shouldn’t Flush or Trash Your Medication

Flushing medication can be harmful to the environment. Many scientific studies from the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies have found that flushed medications wind up in our waterways, and can have an effect on aquatic life over time. These contaminants can then end up back in us, when we eat seafood or drink water. Flushed or trashed medications can also enter the soil and contaminate food products grown there.

By throwing away your prescriptions, you also risk someone stealing them to abuse or misuse, or even sell to someone else.

How You Can Safely Dispose of Medication

The FDA recommends disposing of unwanted medications through a community take-back program. These are held periodically by police departments, health departments, hospitals, or local pharmacies. Some hospitals or pharmacies may have mail-back programs or drop-boxes set up, to make it easy for consumers to dispose of medications at any time.

If a take-back program isn’t available, you may dispose of prescriptions in the garbage. If you do this, first combine the medication with something undesirable, like kitty litter or coffee grounds. Don’t crush capsules or tablets. Just mix them in to make them unattractive to children and pets. Then place the mixture in a plastic bag and seal it to prevent leakage. You can also contact your local waste management facility to find information on medication disposal options and find their guidelines on the matter.

The FDA allows you to flush a few medicines that are particularly harmful if taken accidentally by children or someone who does not need the drug. The list of these medicines is available at the FDA’s website here.

To protect your privacy, be sure you remove the label — or black out important information that remains on the prescription containers.

Local Disposal Programs

The Frederick County Health Department has medication drop-boxes set up in several locations. There are drop-off locations in Frederick, Thurmont, Brunswick, Middletown, Emmitsburg, and the State Police Barracks. Learn more here:

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