How to Get Rid of Expired and Unused Medicines Before Moving Your Home

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There has been a lot of talk recently of how to get rid of unused or old medicines safely with much of the discussion focused on pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies and how they should be responsible for safely disposing of medicines.  Really, this seems like the only way to ensure that medicine doesn't end up in the environment or in the hands of children or teens. But until that type of service is in place, most of us will have to get rid of unwanted medicine at some point. And for those of us who are packing and moving house and getting rid of stuff before we pack up the house, getting rid of extra pills and bottles is essential when packing up the bathroom or medicine cabinet.

So where to start?  We turn to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website for details on how best to dispose of medicine safely.

How to Dispose of Prescription and Over the Counter Medicines Safely

First, if you want a full description, including federal guidelines, you can read up on the laws surrounding safe disposal. For those who want a quick overview, we've summarize the information for you, starting with what you should do.

1. Check the Expiry Date

Check the labels of all your prescription bottles for instructions on how to dispose of the bottles' content. Most will come with instructions which will either be on the bottle itself or contained in the patient information sheet that accompanied the medicine. If it's an old prescription, call the pharmacy and ask them for a copy of the instructions. Follow any specific disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanies the medicine.

2. Look for Local Take-back Programs

Contact your local community center or city hall to see if you have a community take-back program that enables you to bring unwanted and unused medicines to a disposal center where the medicines will be safely disposed.  If you can't find such a service, contact your local recycling company to ask them for more information. Usually, they'll know what types of services there are in your community. 

You can also check to see if there are any National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days in your community. These government-sponsored programs run throughout the country and provide dates when you can bring unwanted pills to a central location. 

3. How to Dispose Medicines if No Program Exists

If you don't have a place to take your unwanted medicines, then you'll need to get rid of them by throwing them in the garbage. While this isn't the best solution, it is sometimes the only one. Make sure you do the following: 1) Remove the pills from their original containers and mix them with something with an unpleasant taste and smell such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter which will make it less appealing to children, pets, other wildlife 2) Put the mixture in a sealed bag. Make sure no air can get in or out which will ensure that the contents are secure.

Once you've disposed of the bottle's contents, you'll need to get rid of the bottle itself. Before recycling the container, make sure you remove or black out all the personal information on the label, including your medical number, your name, physician and the type of drug. This will ensure your privacy is maintained.

What Not to Do with Expired or Unused Medicines

Do not flush medicines or any over the counter drugs, that includes herbal supplements and vitamins. Whatever you flush will end up in the water system or in lakes and streams, potentially harming humans, animals and the environment.

Do not give your medicine to family or friends. Giving away medicine is a federal offense and it can be extremely dangerous.