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How to Dispose of Prescription Drugs

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have created the smaRXt disposal campaign to educate consumers about how to dispose of medicines in a safe and environmentally protective manner. Here are our tips based on their recommendations:

Do not flush unused medications and do not pour them down a sink or drain.
There are currently 27 drugs deemed dangerous enough by the FDA (such as powerful narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances) to carry instructions for flushing (this will be clearly labeled) to reduce the risk to pets and family, or illegal abuse.
According to the FDA, disposal of these select, few medicines by flushing contributes only a small fraction of the total amount medicine found in the water–and that any potential risk to people and the environment from flushing this small, select list of medicines is outweighed by the real possibility of life-threatening risks from accidental ingestion of these medicines.  You can see the list of 27 flushable drugs here.

Find a Take-Back program
Drug take-back programs for disposal can be another good way to remove unwanted or expired medicines from the home and reduce the chance that someone may accidentally take the medicine. Contact your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service to see if there is a take-back program in your community and if there are any rules about which medicines can be taken back. You can also talk to your pharmacist to see if he or she knows of other medicine disposal programs in your area. See Disposemymeds.org for more.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

156 comments

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8:16AM PST on Dec 31, 2013

I have a large vitamin bottle in which I put all my unused and/or expired meds in and then when it's full, I take it to my pharmacy. THEY have hazardous material containers in which they place THEIR medical/pharmaceutical "waste" That way I feel I have safely gotten rid of all medications I cannot or did not use! That goes for over the counter medications too, by the way.

Of course, while I'm filling the bottle, I store it in a safe place, away from animals, children or anyone who COULD be looking to "score drugs"....lol....I feel this is one of the absolute BEST ways to get rid of those types of items and not have to worry about them!

4:55AM PST on Dec 31, 2013

You say put coffee grounds, cat litter. sawdust in the bag... you neglect to say they should be USED coffee grounds, USED cat litter, WET Sawdust. They have to make the meds unusable. People go through the garbage to get those meds.. they have be deterred. Plane dry coffee grounds, dry cat litter and dry sawdust do nothing.

11:22PM PST on Dec 30, 2013

great to know!

8:32AM PDT on Apr 6, 2012

thanks for sharing

9:00AM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

Thank you

1:15PM PST on Jan 9, 2012

Thanks for the insight on disposing of drugs. Many people do not finish all their meds. I just pulled about 8 bottles out of my medicine cabinet yesterday & wondered what to do with them. Now I have some options. Thanks again.

7:46PM PST on Jan 5, 2012

Great article!

3:04PM PST on Jan 4, 2012

Thank you so much for this very important info!

2:45PM PDT on Aug 12, 2011

Thank you for posting this extremely important information, Melissa. I have read that frogs are having trouble mating because estrogen in birth control pills gets in water and they all end up female! Makes you wonder if this is part of the reason so many boys are "feminized" and men have ED, but many poisons and drugs could do this.

10:22AM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

This is one of those areas that many do not think about but is very important. Thanks for getting the information out to more people.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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