5 tips to make sure you're getting rid of your medicine the right way

A woman holds a bottle of medicine.

Today, October 21, is National Check Your Meds Day, a reminder to inspect the contents of your medicine cabinet.

If you take prescription or over-the-counter medicines to help manage your health, there may come a time when you no longer need to take these medicines. And, like fresh fruits and vegetables, medicines also expire. Medicine that has expired may not work as well and may no longer be safe to use.

It's important to get rid of unneeded or expired medicines. A medicine can be helpful to the person it was prescribed for, but it can cause serious problems if it's used by someone else or if an animal accidentally consumes it. Additionally, medications are only intended for the time period where they are prescribed; using outside of the time frame can increase your risk of side effects or drug-drug interactions.

"A number of patients don’t use the entire supply of medications, specifically prescription pain medications," said Doug Oyler, PharmD, director of the Office of Opioid Safety. "In addition to appropriately taking and storing the medications while patients take them, they have to dispose of them properly to ensure they don’t fall into the wrong hands. A large number of patients with an opioid addiction started by taking someone else’s unused medication."

How do you get rid of medicines?

Here are a few ways you can get rid of medicines safely. If you have any questions about your old or unneeded medicines, ask a pharmacist for help.

  • Check the label on the bottle or box. The label may tell you how to get rid of the medicine safely. You can also look at any information that came with the bottle or box.
  • Bring the medicine to a take-back program or drop-off box. Find out if your local trash and recycle center, drugstore, or hospital offers a take-back program or a place to drop off medicine. Some local police or sheriff's offices may also have a drop-off box. To find a disposal location in your county, click here.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about drug disposal kits. There are a number of commercially available kits that can be used to appropriately dispose of medicines in the trash. These kits deactivate the medication in a biodegradable package. For a description of the Deterra® package, click here.
  • Put most kinds of medicines in the trash safely. If there isn't a take-back program or drop-off box near you, follow these steps to throw away most kinds of medicine with the rest of your garbage.
  1. Take it out of the container it came in.
  2. You can throw that container away, but first scratch out any personal information on the label. This will help protect your identity and health information.
  3. Mix the medicine with something that doesn't taste good, such as cat litter, saw dust or used coffee grounds. Don't crush tablets or capsules.
  4. Place the mixture in a sealed container, like a plastic bag or can.
  5. Put that container in your household trash.
  • For certain medicines that can harm others, flush them down the sink or toilet. Only a few medicines should be flushed down the sink or toilet if you can't use a take-back program or drop-off box. These include prescription pain medicines, such as oxycodone or morphine. To see a list of medicines that should be flushed down the sink or toilet, go to: fda.gov/drugs/safe-disposal-medicines/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know

Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

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