By Annalisa Thomas, Pharm.D. Community Practice Resident
Prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines expire and become unusable after some time. How and where can you get rid of these items? Kelley-Ross Pharmacy is here to help! We’ve put together a list of some key techniques and references for safe disposal of drugs.
Can I just throw medicine in the trash?
Throwing medicine in the trash is not ideal as it poses both a safety and environmental risk. It can be a danger to children, pets, and others coming into contact with it. Medicine doesn’t stop being medicine once it’s in the trash –it’s still chemically active, and can still contaminate. Ideally, medicines should be disposed through a registered take-back program or through an approved drug disposal system (more on that below).
In some situations, the ideal solution may not be available. If that is the case, the best way to dispose of medicines in the trash is to mix the medicine with cat litter or coffee grounds in a separate sealed bag before throwing away. Be aware that even mixing medicine with litter or coffee grounds is often not enough to deter children and pets, and it does not insure against drug theft and abuse either.
What about Medicine Take-Back Programs?
A safer way to dispose of your unwanted medicines is through a take-back program. Several counties in Washington have sites that participate in medicine take-back. Just gather your unwanted medicines in their original containers, remove the labels or mark out your personal information, and find a take-back location near you. Here is a searchable list of locations: Medicine Take-Back Locations
Don’t see a take-back location near you? Some medicine disposal systems using mail-back via USPS may be available for purchase through your pharmacy –just ask. Another online resource provided by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), DisposeMyMeds.org, also enables a search of take-back locations throughout the country. Click this link for more information about these options: Other Disposal Options
When should I flush my medicine?
The FDA has a list of medicines that it recommends flushing for the safety of a household, which include medicines that have potential to be harmful to others for whom they are not prescribed. Specifically, children and pets may be the ones to come into contact with the medicine, risking accidental injury or even death. Some examples include:
- oxycodone/acetaminophen (Percocet®)
- hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin®)
- fentanyl (Duragesic®) patches
- diazepam (Diastat®) gel
- methylphenidate (Daytrana®) patches
- Several others –this list can be accessed from this link: FDA Recommended Medicines to Flush
There is conflicting information regarding the flushing of medicines and pollution of groundwater. This is an important reason why take-back programs are encouraged. Nevertheless, it is highly important to be mindful of safety concerns when disposing of these medicines. Patches, if thrown in the trash, should be folded in half, with the medicine-containing side inward, before ever discarding. These items should be treated the same as oral medicines in terms of disposal safety –i.e., mix them with an unappealing substance like cat litter and seal in a separate bag.
Kelley-Ross Pharmacy carries a medicine disposal product called DRUGBUSTER® which is a safe option for disposing of unwanted medicine at home, including pills and patches. It is a specially formulated solution that dissolves and neutralizes the chemical contents of medicine. The entire bottle can then simply be discarded into the trash. This product is available for sale at Kelley-Ross. Read more about it by clicking the link here: DRUGBUSTER®
What are controlled substances and where do I dispose of them?
Controlled substances are medicines like certain pain relievers and stimulants, which have the potential to be abused. Five different classifications or “schedules” are used for grouping these medicines, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) handles this task. Only law enforcement locations, like police departments and sheriff’s offices, and can accept controlled substances for take-back. Here is a link to a searchable list of locations, and be sure look for the green checkmark with the phrase “Accepts controlled substances”: Law Enforcement Take-Back Locations.
Some examples of controlled substances are:
- Opioids such as oxycodone/acetaminophen (Percocet®), hydrocodone/ acetaminophen (Vicodin®), morphine (Kadian®), fentanyl (Abstral®)
- Stimulants such as amphetamine (Adderall®) and methylphenidate (Ritalin®)
- Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax®), diazepam (Valium®), lorazepam (Ativan®)
What about my needles, syringes, and other sharp items?
Proper disposal of sharps is an important part of public health to prevent injuries and disease transmission. Sharps containers are available for purchase at most pharmacies, and are an easy, in-home way to get rid of these potentially dangerous items. Some locations where sharps containers are sold will also offer disposal for a fee –just ask when you make your purchase.
An alternative in King County is to place sharps in a 2-liter P.E.T. plastic soda bottle, tape the container shut tightly, and mark it as “Sharps –Do Not Recycle.” In Seattle, this may then be taken to Seattle’s North or South Recycling and Disposal Station for free disposal. Outside of Seattle in King County, the securely taped and labeled bottle may be placed into the regular garbage (NOT the recycling). For more information on county-specific disposal, here are some links:
Are there some additional resources?
The DEA hosts a national annual medicine take-back day. Click here for more location and detailed information on this: DEA Drug Take-Back Program
The FDA website is a useful resource with helpful recommendations for medicine disposal, and a link to this may be found here: FDA Unwanted Medicine Disposal
Seattle & King County Public Health website- Safe and legal disposal of sharps: http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/communicable/hiv/resources/disposal.aspx
Snohomish County Public Works –Sharps disposal brochure:
Kitsap County Public Works Website- Sharps disposal:
Washington State Medication take-back locations:
Alternative medication disposal options:
FDA list of medicines for flushing:
DEA Drug Take-Back Program website:
FDA medicine disposal recommendations: