Disposing of Prescription Medications

Recently, I was involved in moving my parents to a nursing facility. In cleaning out their home, I found bottles and bottles of prescription medications they weren’t allowed to take with them. I had to find a way to dispose of these medicines that was acceptable and environmentally safe. After doing some research, I found FDA recommendations and used their recommended process. (Note: If anyone has found other ways, please let me know).

The FDA recommends the following: (U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, Feb 2012)

Not all medications are handled the same. Before doing anything, check for specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Here you may find information pertaining to that drug specifically. If nothing is noted, check for a take-back program in your community. There may be a program listing in your city or government’s household trash and recycling services in the phone book. Also, check for programs through your local pharmacy. If these options are not available to you, proceed as follows:

Prescription medications may be placed in the trash if proper disposal techniques are used.

  • Remove medications from containers
  • Place medications in plastic ziplock bag or a type of container that can hold water and be sealed
  • Mix prescription medications with cat litter or coffee grounds, filling approximately half of the bag
  • Add water to the bag
  • Seal the bag and place in the trash.

The cat litter or coffee grounds not only helps to disguise the medications, but makes them less appealing to children and animals. This picture at left shows what a mixture with cat litter may look like. The cat litter absorbs the water and turns into a hard, cement-like substance that can safely be put in the trash. It will go to the landfill and eventually break down.

At one time, it was common practice to flush medications down the toilet. We now know doing this presents a risk to our environment – the ground, water, and air around us. So for safe disposal, please use the recommended FDA process.


 Strive to be healthy!

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