How To Dispose Of Expired Medications In The Home

Chances are you're sitting on some old, expired, or never-used medications in your cabinet or drawer.  You know the drawer I'm talking about… It's the one in the bathroom where all this stuff seems to accumulate.

Every time I open that drawer up I say to myself, “I've got to organize this drawer one of these days…” Then I close it up for another 60 days or so, and the cycle repeats itself!

If you're a responsible adult (and I know you are) you should be aware of the right way to dispose of your old or expired medications in the home.  The FDA has guidelines for this incredible accumulation of beta blockers, ACE Inhibitors, anti-inflammatory meds, ibuprofen, that expire in our drawers or medicine cabinets.


How big of an issue is this you ask?  Well, just know that you're not alone in your hoarding of expired meds… On April 27th the government sponsored a “National Take-Back Initiative” at 5,829 locations around the country.  During this single event, more than 742,497  pounds (or 371 tons) of prescription medications were recovered and properly disposed of.

We're talking big-time pill poundage folks!  The DEA has sponsored 5 previous Take-Back Initiatives and all combined, more than 2.8 million pounds (1,409 tons) of medications have been removed as a potential threat to consumers.

Expiration dates do matter when it comes to the medications in your cabinet or drawer.  If your medicine has expired, the chemical composition of that drug may have changed leading to a weaker effect, stronger effect or no effect at all.  The FDA has put together a consumer alert video noting the importance of expiration dates (see below).

Disposing of Expired Prescription Drugs

There's been a bit of controversy regarding flushing certain medications down the toilet when disposing of them.  Some environmental organizations note that trace amounts of certain chemical may leach into organic material or appear back into our water supply.  Regardless, if you cannot get rid of your expired drugs at a DEA sponsored Take-Back event, the FDA recommends flushing certain drugs down the toilet (or down the drain).


This list is part of a risk mitigation strategy which balances the risk of (access to) these  drugs in the home, with environmental concerns.  Right or wrong, they've concluded that some drugs are flush-worthy (thank you Elaine Benes).

For those drugs that aren't on the flush-list, the FDA offers these suggestions for drug disposal in the home:

“Mix medicines (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds.  Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag and throw the container in your household trash.  Before throwing out your empty pill bottle or other empty medicine packaging, remember to scratch out all information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.” 

The best scenario for drug disposal is to take your unused medications to a National Take-Back Initiative event.  You can follow upcoming events by visiting the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s website for information on National Prescription Drug Take-Back Events.

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