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What’s the best way to throw out the old pills in my medicine cabinet?

What’s the best way to throw out the old pills in my medicine cabinet?

Saturday April 26, take your unused and expired medications to more than 4,000 sites across the U.S., including many fire and police stations, hospitals, and churches, as part of National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Find a drop-off location near you.

Holding onto expired and unused medications “just in case” can put anyone in your home—including pets and children—at risk for accidental ingestion, misuse, or overdose. In 2012 alone, nearly 300,000 cases of improper medicine use were reported to Poison Control Centers in the United States; 8 percent of those involved accidental exposure to another person’s medicine, and 17 percent involved children 5 years old and younger. 

If you can’t make it this Saturday, many pharmacies will accept and dispose of over-the-counter and most prescription medications all year long. Before you drop meds off, remove all identifying information on the bottle labels to protect your privacy. Two online resources, Dispose My Meds and Sharps Compliance, can help you find pharmacies near you that accept your leftover medications.

So why not just flush them? Flushing is not advised for most medications because of the concern that trace amounts of drugs can end up in the water supply. But for a short list of potent painkillers, including Demerol (meperidine hydrochloride and generic), Duragesic (fentanyl patch), Opana (oxymorphone hydrochloride and generic), and Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen and generic), that pharmacies may not be permitted to take back, the Food and Drug Administration does recommends flushing. The FDA’s list of flushable meds carry instructions for flushing as soon as they are no longer needed to reduce the risk of accidental ingestion.

If your local pharmacies won’t accept your unused medications, and there are no take-back programs in your area, you can throw the drugs in your household trash. But take a few cautious steps: First, remove the drug from its original container and mix it with a substance that makes it less appealing and unrecognizable, such as used coffee grounds, kitty litter, or sawdust. Then place the mixture in a sealable plastic bag or other container that won’t leak, and toss it in the trash.

—Ginger Skinner

This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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