Medication: What to do with the Leftovers

October 20, 2019
Extra prescription pills should be disposed of responsibly.

We’ve all been there. Sometimes, it’s an over-the-counter pain reliever that expired. Other times, it’s a prescription drug that you’ve stopped taking. Pill bottles are cluttering your medicine cabinet, and you are trying to figure out what to do. 

Middlesex Health pharmacist Jennifer Shin recommends that you participate in a drug take back program. National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is held twice each year. During this time, you can drop off medications at specific locations to ensure proper disposal. 

If you aren't able to participate in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, you do have other options. Check with your local police department. Many have drug drop off boxes. You can also safely dispose of most medications in your household trash. 

Before placing any medications in your trash, Shin says to:

  • Scratch out personal information on the container to protect your personal identity and privacy
  • Mix the medication with an unappealing substance, such as coffee grounds or dirt
  • Place the medicine in a sealed container, such as a resealable bag or an empty can

Should you flush medications? This should be avoided, Shin says, adding that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration does keep a list of medications that can be flushed, but the state of Connecticut urges residents not to flush medications because of environmental concerns.

Discouraging consumption and disposing of needles

To discourage the consumption of expired or unneeded drugs, you can add a small amount of water to pills or capsules. This will cause the medicine to partially dissolve. For liquid medications, Shin says to add salt, flour, charcoal and powdered spice to make a pungent mixture, which will act as a deterrent. For medicine in blister packs, wrap packs with multiple layers of duct tape to keep people out.

If you need to handle needles or other sharp objects, do so with care, and keep them out of the reach of children and pets. Place all needles and other sharp objects in a sharps disposal container immediately after you use them. If you do not have access to such a container, an empty bleach or detergent bottle with a cap, or an empty coffee can, will do.

Container for correct sharps disposal.

When your container is three-fourths full, it’s time for proper disposal. Different communities have different guidelines for getting rid of these containers. Your community may offer a drop box, have a supervised collection site or a public household hazardous waste collection site.

Tip: Do not reuse sharps disposal containers. Do not toss sharp items loose in the trash.

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