Safe Drug Disposal

For several years I have been saving extra prescription medication in a box; I did this because my doctors were constantly changing my prescriptions, I hate wasting things, especially expensive pills, and I kept thinking I might go back on one of them. Eventually I realized that situations in which I needed the old pills were never coming up, but I kept saving them out of habit. Now I know that not only are the old prescriptions rarely useful, most of the drugs get discontinued in favor of better ones and the old pills break down in storage and become ineffective. The waste involved in this appalls me; I have a two months supply bottle of sleeping pills that my insurance paid three hundred dollars for and which I used for one week before I found the side effects unbearable. I am sure this sort of waste is a big part of the current health care crisis.

At any rate, at this point I now have about twenty pounds of expired prescription drugs in a big box in my bedroom. I really want to get rid of them, but I am unsure if just dumping it all in the trash is safe. Is there a proper way of disposing of expired drugs?

Guidelines from the US Federal Government in PDF form.

Some states have other opinions. I think I read somewhere that Florida wants you to do something different.

Contact your local hospital. I work at one, an my hospital does periodic drug-disposal days, with a few pickup points around the city for people to drop off expired or unneeded drugs.

Otherwise, check with your local sanitation department.

I would suggest asking your pharmacist. While the pharmacy can’t re-use the drugs, the pharmacist is likely to know the best thing to do.

I forgot where I read it but the suggestion was to put the drugs in a ziplock bag filled with water and throw them away. That way, the drugs will dissolve and be unusable but stay out of the water supply.

If you’re in California you can use the on-line Medical Waste Disposal Directory to find the most convenient place to dispose of old drugs.

If it is pills, the guidelines we have at the pharmacy are to put water or rubbing alcohol in the bottle, close, and throw in the trash. Remove any labels or identifying information. For liquid medications, add sawdust or kitty litter or whatever you have that will render it undrinkable and seal, and throw in the trash. Whatever you do, do NOT flush it down the toilet.