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Proper Medication Disposal Saves Lives

Spring has sprung and now is the perfect time to give your medicine cabinet a good spring cleaning. Making sure that you regularly dispose of unused or expired prescriptions and over-the-counter medications is a simple and effective way to keep your family safe and healthy. However, it is also important to make sure that you are doing so properly.


Approximately 60,000 young children are brought to the emergency room each year because they got into medicines that were left within reach.2 Additionally, according to a 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 5,700 Americans misuse medication for the first time every day.4 Where do you keep the prescription and over-the-counter medications in your home?


Proper Medication Disposal

Every year in communities across the US, local law enforcement hold a DEA sponsored prescription take back day where anyone can come in and drop off their unused and expired medications. This year, the event takes place on April 24th, 2021. Utilizing these events is the best way to dispose of most types of medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter). In 2020, over 492 Tons of medications were collected at over 4,500 collection sites.


Additionally, there are year-round pharmaceutical disposal locations that are DEA authorized collectors. To find the closest one to you, click here.


If you cannot get to a drug take-back event or if there are no disposal locations near you, you can still safely dispose of your unused or expired medications at home in your household trash. To do so, follow these steps below for proper disposal:1

1. Remove the drugs from their original containers and mix them with something undesirable such as used coffee grounds, dirt, or cat litter. This makes the medicine less appealing to children and pets.

2. Put the mixture in something you can close such as a zipper storage bag to prevent the drug from leaking or spilling out.

3. Throw the container in the garbage.

4. Scratch out all your personal information on the empty medicine packaging to protect your identity and throw the packaging away.


It is best practice to use one of the three options above and only flush medication down the toilet as a last resort. You should only flush prescription medications down the toilet if the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs you to do so (i.e., specific medications, such as prescription pain relievers that have a high potential to be abused. If you are unsure, check the FDA’s list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing).2


Medication Storage & Safety

In addition to regular and proper medication disposal, it is also important to follow some basic medication storage and safety tips to reduce the potential for improper use.


First and foremost, keep medications up and out of sight, specifically away from places where babies, toddlers, or pets can reach them. According to SafeKids Worldwide, 23% of young children who got into medicines and ended up in the emergency room had found pills / tablets on the ground, and nearly 20% got into medicines stored in purses or diaper bags.3 Save the Poison Help line (1-800-222-1222) in your phone in case someone in your home ingests medications they should not have.


Location also matters because most medications require a cool, dark, and dry place as heat and humidity have the potential to damage them. You should also avoid storing medications in the bathroom if it does not have proper ventilation. Be sure to check the packaging to see how to properly store the medication as some also require refrigeration.


Other common best practices include:

  • Always keep medications in their original containers and separate each person’s medications to avoid accidentally taking someone else’s.

  • Don’t take pills in the dark so you can make sure you are taking the right medication.

  • Open medicine over a flat countertop so if you drop a pill you can find it easily.

Talking with Your Family

It is important to take time and talk with children and adolescents about the dangers of drug misuse and abuse. Parental influence is one of the key drivers in reducing substance abuse and providing boundaries and expectations will help your children avoid unsafe situations.


For children in elementary school, start by talking with them about how medicine can sometimes look like candy and how knowing the difference is crucial. GenerationRx – a program developed by The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy – offers a ‘Candy vs Medicine’ game you can utilize to help educate your children:


When talking with teens, it is best to offer them several alternative ways to turn down an invitation to take drugs. In a recent study, only 31% of teens reported that they learned about the risks of drugs from their parents. Teach teens the three Rs of prescription drugs:

  • Respect—Respect the power of your medicine and the value of medicines properly used.

  • Risk—All medicines have risks as well as benefits. Risk increases dramatically when medicines are taken improperly.

  • Responsibility—Take responsibility for learning about how to take each medication safely.

There are resources and toolkits available for you to use to help you navigate the important conversations you should be having. Click here to find toolkits for your family.


Knowing the Issue

In the United States, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death. Visits to emergency departments for problems associated with the misuse of medications exceed those for using illicit “street” drugs.4 Drug misuse can be done by taking more than what is prescribed, taking medications for a reason different than what it was prescribed for, or sharing/taking someone else’s prescription medications.


Americans also consume more than 80% of the world’s supply of prescription painkillers. In 2019 over 70,000 Americans died from a drug-involved overdose including illicit drugs and prescription opioids. Controlled substances pose the highest risk for dependency and misuse and during 2020, the US saw a significant uptick in reported opioid-related mortalities.


By properly disposing of your medications, you can help reduce the amount of drug misuse and abuse in your family and community. Talk with the pharmacy for questions or more information.


1. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/where-and-how-dispose-unused-medicines

2. https://www.bemedwise.org/your-medicines-self-care/drug-storage-and-disposal/

3. https://www.safekids.org/infographic/medication-safety-infographic

https://generationrx.org/learn/learn-at-home/

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