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How can I properly dispose of medications that I no longer use?

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Updated May 13, 2008

Question: How can I properly dispose of medications that I no longer use?
From a reader: I recently heard on the news that there are drugs in our drinking water because people flush their pills down the toilet. How can I properly dispose of medications that I no longer use?
Answer:

Many people toss expired or unused medications in the trash or flush them down the toilet. Some components of these drugs end up in our lakes, streams, and water supplies. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “The improper disposal of unused medications by flushing them or pouring them down the drain may be harmful to fish, wildlife and their habitats.”

Throwing medications away in the garbage also may be dangerous, as they can end up in the mouths of children or household pets.

I admit that I have been guilty of not appropriately disposing of unused medications. Following the reports about water contamination, I did research on the issue and now correctly dispose of both prescription and over-the-counter medications.

There are several options for proper disposal of your medications.

  • Call your local pharmacy to find out if there are any drug buyback programs or approved collection programs in your area. Your pharmacy may be able to send discarded medications to a registered disposal company.
  • Pour liquid medication or pills (that you have crushed first) into a sealable plastic bag or an empty can. Add a substance like kitty litter, sawdust or used coffee grounds to make the medication less appealing to kids and pets. Seal the container and put it in the trash.
  • Before recycling or throwing away your empty medication containers, remove the prescription label or any personal information.

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