How to dispose of expired medications

Written by basharat shah
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How to dispose of expired medications
Unused drugs can be detected in wastewater (BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Following reports of an Associated Press probe that trace levels of prescription and OTC drugs (especially hormones, antibiotics, anxiolytics, anticonvulsants, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and others) were detectable in the drinking water supply of several major metropolitan areas nationwide, the FDA issued instructions on proper disposal of expired and unused medications. The wastewater contains both drugs that were consumed and hence excreted as well as the unused drugs that were flushed down the toilet. Despite treatment, some wastewater does enters the drinking water supply. Follow the steps below to learn how to properly dispose of expired and unused medications:

Skill level:


    Disposal of unused medications

  1. 1

    Remove drugs from their original container.

    How to dispose of expired medications
    Remove from container (Hemera Technologies/ Images)
  2. 2

    Mix or crush with an unappetizing substance such as coffee grounds, pet litter, dust and place into an impermeable container, such as a jar with a lid or a sealed plastic bag.

    How to dispose of expired medications
    Crush and mix with unappetizing substances (Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images)
  3. 3

    Dispose into the household trash.

    How to dispose of expired medications
    Dispose into the bin (Hemera Technologies/ Images)
  4. 4

    Flush down the toilet only those medications whose label or accompanying patient information explicitly specifies flushing. The FDA advises that the following drugs should be flushed into the toilet rather than thrown into the trash:

    Actiq (fentanyl citrate) Daytrana Transdermal Patch (methylphenidate) Duragesic Transdermal System (fentanyl) OxyContin Tablets (oxycodone) Avinza Capsules (morphine sulphate) Baraclude Tablets (entecavir) Reyataz Capsules (atazanavir sulphate) Tequin Tablets (gatifloxacin) Zerit for Oral Solution (stavudine) Meperidine HCl Tablets Percocet (Oxycodone and Acetaminophen) Xyrem (Sodium Oxybate) Fentora (fentanyl buccal tablet)

    How to dispose of expired medications
    Only flush down the toilet if it specifies to do so (Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)
  5. 5

    Check with your local pharmacy to see if any drug take-back programmes are offered. Such programmes are meant to encourage the public to bring their unused drugs to a location for appropriate disposal. These programmes provide a good way to dispose of unused drugs properly.

    How to dispose of expired medications
    Some pharmacies offer a take-back programme (Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Tips and warnings

  • Make sure all the disposed drugs are out of the reach of children

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