Best Way to Dispose of Old Drugs
BY: Stacey Colino
While recently cleaning out our medicine cabinets, I came across some over-the-counter and prescription medications that dated back to ... the first Bush administration! Old, expired or just plain dusty, it was time to toss them -- but how? Was it OK to just throw them in the trash? I decided to check with the experts, and it’s a good thing I did.
Best Way to Dispose of … Most Drugs
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently updated its guidelines for safely disposing of unused or expired medications. For most drugs -- such as heartburn medications, antibiotics and antihistamines -- the FDA recommends a three-step process:
1. Mix unused drugs with an “undesirable substance,” like used coffee grounds or kitty litter.
2. Put the mix in a sealed plastic bag so contents won’t leak.
3. Place the sealed bag in the trash.
Best Way to Dispose of … Powerful Drugs
However, certain medications -- such as powerful narcotic pain relievers -- should be flushed down the toilet to prevent abuse or accidental ingestion by kids or animals, says Mitchel Rothholz, a registered pharmacist and chief strategy officer for the American Pharmacists Association. The reason: “Abuse of prescription pain relievers, such as oxycodone and morphine, as well as stimulants and other controlled medications, has been on the rise,” he explains. Plus, accidental exposure to these medications can be harmful -- in some cases even deadly -- with just one dose. Flushing removes the danger from the picture. For a complete list of medications that should be flushed, visit the FDA’s “Disposal of Unused Medicines” Web page.
Best Way to Dispose of … Unused Drugs
Meanwhile, community take-back programs -- in which unused drugs are collected by pharmacies or community or government organizations -- are cropping up across the country. The Drug Enforcement Administration conducts one every April. During the rest of the year, you may be able to find drop-off locations near you through the Product Stewardship Institute’s Drug Take-Back Network.
So if you haven’t cleaned out your medicine cabinet lately, add it to your list of spring-cleaning chores. Then take advantage of a take-back program or follow the new FDA guidelines to keep your family safe from the dangers of accidental ingestion.
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Stacey Colino has written for The Washington Post's health section and many national magazines, including Newsweek, Woman's Day, SELF, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parenting, Sports Illustrated and Ladies' Home Journal. Stacey is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.