How Do You Dispose of Expired Medication?

Many home medicine cabinets are full of unused, expired prescriptions that build up as time goes by. Especially now, as the United States faces an opioid epidemic, it is vital to dispose of those medications safely.

Some of our patients leave Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) with a short-term prescription for opioids and other medications – some of which go unused and expire. Patients often ask us what to do with those medications to ensure they are properly thrown away.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that a majority of the 6.4 million Americans who abused controlled prescription drugs in 2015 were obtained through diversion – meaning, that many of these pills were taken from home medicine cabinets from leftover prescriptions and distributed illegally.

On April 28, the DEA will be hosting its 15th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, partnering with more than 5,000 community sites to provide a safe place for patients to return expired and unused medications – no questions asked – from 10 am to 2 pm. This initiative that has helped collect more than 456 tons of unwanted medications in 2017 alone.

You can use the DEA’s collection site locator to find out who is participating in this year’s National Take Back Day.

Even when it’s not National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, there are several options for patients looking to dispose of unwanted medications:

  • Call your surgeon’s office for instructions on how to properly dispose of your prescriptions.
  • While opioids cannot be flushed, several other prescriptions can. Here’s the FDA guidance on what can and cannot be flushed.
  • If you have to dispose of medications at home, the FDA suggests that patients take them out of the prescription bottle and mix them with trash (i.e., coffee grounds or cat litter) so they’re less desirable to pets and children.
  • Scratch out any personal information on medication bottles before disposing of them in the trash.
  • Use the DEA Disposal Locator to find a take back
  • Call your prescribing pharmacy and ask them about their take back services or to help you find a dropbox disposal.

Properly disposing of prescription medications is one of the most effective ways patients can fight the opioid crisis. By cutting the number of medications that could be diverted, you are not only limiting your own risk, but you are also helping your friends, family, and community.

Seth Waldman, MD, is the director of the Pain Management Division at Hospital for Special Surgery. He also serves as the Medical Advisor of Opioid Prescribing Practices for HSS.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.