The importance of safely disposing of unused and expired medications cannot be understated. Community survey data indicates the majority of medications misused are obtained from a home medicine cabinet, whether it be their home or a friend’s or other relative’s home. There are a number of effective methods to safely dispose of medications, including opioids, so that they don’t end up in the hands of someone who may misuse them.
Medication Disposal Bags
These bags are specifically made to safely dispose of smaller amounts of medications. While specific instructions may differ by brand, the general process for using these bags is to put pills inside the bag that contains a powdery or granular-type substance, pour water into the bag, seal it and mix the contents by shaking for a determined amount of time. The chemical reaction causes the pills to become inert and unusable. The bag is then disposed of in the trash. A variation of this now includes a small pouch of a substance that is poured directly into the medication bottle with remaining pills. Water is then poured into the bottle and the cap is replaced. The bottle is then shaken to cause a chemical reaction, again making the contents inert, with the bottle then being disposed of in the trash.
Permanent Drug Drop Boxes
Some law enforcement and pharmacy locations have permanent drug drop boxes within their facilities. The boxes, similar to large postal mailboxes, allow community members to anonymously and discreetly dispose of unused, unwanted or expired medications by dropping them into these boxes. Some things may be prohibited from disposal, such as needles/sharps, glass or inhalers. These boxes are locked and closely monitored, and regularly emptied with the contents properly disposed of per regulations. A list of permanent drop box locations is located below:
Drug Take Back Events
In collaboration with the DEA, many communities host drug take back events twice a year, usually in April and October. Within our 21-county region, law enforcement and the DEA partner with community coalitions, healthcare organizations, pharmacies, and others to coordinate these events. Community members can drop off their unused, unwanted or expired medications at these events, and the DEA will collect and properly dispose of them. Last year, almost 11,000 pounds of medications were collected at take back events in our region. The next events are schedule for April 27, 2019. To find a location near you, click here: https://apps.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubdispsearch/spring/main?execution=e3s1
Other Medication Disposal Options
If none of the above options are available or practical for you, there are still options for disposing of unused, unwanted or expired medications. Read the label on the medication to see if options for disposal are offered. Unless is explicitly indicates it is safe to do so, DO NOT flush the medications down the toilet. This can allow the medication to get into the water supply and/or the soil. Preferred disposal options to flushing include taking medications out of the bottle or blister packet and mixing them with undesirable trash, like used cat litter, coffee grounds or dirty diapers. When throwing away prescription bottles/packets, remove the label and dispose of it separately if possible. This will deter someone from easily obtaining medications or prescription information from trash.