How to Dispose of Medicine

November 15, 2010 at 1:00 am 2 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

You should regularly check your medicine cabinet for expired drugs. Because, if you’re like me, it’s probably more like a time-capsule than a medicine cabinet. Yesterday, my wife excavated a teeth whitening kit of mine that expired almost 5 years ago.

When you come across unused or expired medication, you have two options: keep it or get rid of it. There is some debate about the safety and effectiveness of expired medication, but there is no debate about the risk to pets and children when they get into unused medication. Prescription medication can be extremely dangerous, in fact: the second leading cause of death in 35-54 year olds is accidental overdose.

The best way to get rid of old medication is to give it to an organization that can properly dispose of it.

Your local police department may have take back programs where you can return drugs and they will send them away to be discarded. Some local drug stores have take back programs and others, such as Walgreens, sell special envelopes that can be used to mail your drugs to a proper disposal facility.

If professional disposal is not available to you, the next option is to discard the drugs in your own trash. The FDA, and other experts, recommend putting the discarded drugs in a small Ziploc bag and mixing item with undesirable waste such as coffee grounds or kitty litter. This reduces the chance of pets and children finding them or being interested in them if they do find them.

The FDA also maintains a small list of medications that you can flush down the toilet, because they could be potentially dangerous to pets or children if found in the trash. Some of the common ones include demerol, percocet, oxycontin and morphine.

Although flushing these drugs is better than putting them in the trash, sending the drugs away for proper disposal is always the best option. Professional disposal reduces the probability that the drugs will end up in the water supply that we, and many other species, rely on.

You may also want to read this post: Most Medication is Still Good After the Expiration Date

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Sources: FDA,, Smarxt Disposal,, Sharps

Entry filed under: Around The House, Be Green. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Max  |  November 15, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    The stated expiration dates on medicines do not indicate a need to view them as worthless or dangerous past that date. Expiration dates serve a purpose, but they are not the alarm on a count-down to midnite when Cinderella’s coach turns into a pumpkin. Medicines that are stored properly maintain effectiveness long past their expiration dates. There was a study done on this by the US gvmt which can be found with a websearch.
    —- Of course proper disposal of drugs that need disposal is appropriate. But the idea that a drug which has been in your refrigerator for a couple of years is necessarily ineffective or has potential to be hazardous is simply unfounded.

    • 2. Chad Upton  |  November 15, 2010 at 6:04 pm

      Generally, you’re correct. Just because medicine is past its expiry date does not mean it should be thrown out. I was actually going to include some information about that in the article above, but I’m still collecting information from some pharmacology experts. So, you have hinted at a broken secret to come.

      So far, there is at one drug that should not be used after its expiration date: tetracycline. It actually does become toxic. But, most other drugs simply become less effective over time. Most stuff is still pretty good up to a year after it’s expiry. Like you said, the US military has studied this since they tend to stockpile large amounts of drugs and they need to know how long they can keep them after the expiry to control costs. I’ll post a link in this comment thread when the full article is posted.


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