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Safe Medicine disposal: Best Practices

Trash, flush or authorized collector?

When was the last time you cleaned out your medicine cabinet? If you’re like many Americans, it’s likely you haven’t touched many of the items in a year, maybe more. A survey conducted in 2017 showed that one-third of Americans hadn’t cleaned out their medicine cabinets in a year and a fifth hadn’t done so in three years. The fact is, many of us have numerous containers of old and unused medicines sitting in cabinets—and when it comes time to purge them, it’s important to know exactly how to do it safely. Because although these meds may seem innocuous, they can pose a significant risk to others if discarded improperly.

Here’s a quick guide:

Why expired meds can be dangerous

The law requires manufacturers to stamp every medication with an expiration date and although many of them can not cause harm after that date has passed; some can. The
anti-biotic tetracycline, for example, can become toxic and cause kidney damage if ingested after expiration. And, medicines such as epinephrine (as in the EpiPen), insulin (for diabetes), nitroglycerine and others break down and can become harmful after expiration. In addition, expired medications that are innocuous to adults, can still pose a health risk to children and pets. So clearly, simply throwing them into the trash can be risky. If you’re in possession of expired meds, here are recommended options for disposal:

  • Return them to the Pharmacy
  • Call your local health department to inquire about drop off
  • Call your doctor’s office

Discarding in household trash

Many prescription drugs and over the counter medicines can be disposed of in your household trash, but it’s important to follow certain steps to prevent accidental ingestion by a child or pet. The FDA recommends that you crush pills and then place them in a sealed zip-top bag with used coffee grounds, kitty litter or dirt to ensure that they won’t be visible, then use a permanent marker to scratch out the prescription details on the empty bottle.

Disposing of dangerous drugs

Certain medications, like opioids for example, are extremely dangerous and should never be thrown into the household trash. Instead, the FDA recommends flushing them down the toilet. Although there is discussion that these types of medications can potentially harm the environment, the danger of accidental ingestion is considered a higher risk.  Other medications that the FDA recommends you flush include:

  • Morphine
  • Demerol
  • Fentanyl
  • Buprenorphine (used to fight addiction)
  • Methylphenidate (used to treat ADHD)
  • Diazepam (used to treat anxiety, seizures)

If you’re one of the many people who hasn’t cleaned out their medicine cabinet in a year or more, it’s a good idea to go through what’s in there. Remember to follow the procedures outlined here to dispose of unused or expired medications. If you’re unsure of what to do with any of the drugs you have, call your pharmacy or doctor’s office to clarify.

All Points Medical Waste is a family-owned and operated company that serves the Treasure Coast, Palm Beach, Broward and Indian River Counties. We offer a myriad of medical waste disposal services as well as shredding and destructions services. Give us a call today at
772.600. 4885 to find out more about what we do.

Dawn Connelly

Dawn Connelly

Dawn is the vice president of All Points Medical Waste. All Points Medical Waste is a family-owned and operated medical waste disposal and compliance company that has been serving the Treasure Coast, Palm Beaches, and surrounding areas since 1994.
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