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Why Safe Drug Disposal Matters (and How to Do It)

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Do you have a cabinet in your bathroom or kitchen somewhere that’s full of medications you don’t use? Those antibiotics you should have finished but didn’t, those painkillers that they gave you way too many of after your surgery, maybe some long-expired vitamins? It’s probably time to get rid of them, and we have some tips for how to do that.

Conveniently, National Drug Take Back Day is coming up, and there will probably be a take back event in your community. Google has a tool to find a location near you. Most will be open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on April 30, 2022.

Why it’s important to safely dispose of drugs

It may be tempting to keep medications around “just in case,” but there are downsides, too.

First, drugs can be misused. I’m not saying your kid/neighbor/nephew will steal your old painkillers, but a lot of people who misuse prescription drugs get them from family and friends.

Second, there’s the risk of somebody accidentally taking the wrong drug. Your toddler might get into the medicine cabinet, but another possibility is that you’ll be reaching for one thing in the dark before bed one night and end up taking a different pill that came in a similar bottle.

Expired medications may still be effective, but the reason they have expiration dates is that, after that date, their effectiveness and safety aren’t guaranteed. Some drugs break down over time, so if you end up taking ten-year-old allergy medicine, it may not do much to alleviate your itching and sneezing.

How to properly dispose of medications

We have a guide on how to safely dispose of drugs here. A drug takeback event is the best way, since it’s actually designed for drug disposal. Usually the medications collected are incinerated.

If you miss the national event, you still have options. Pharmacies will sometimes accept medications for disposal, and community organizations and places like police departments will also sometimes hold local takeback days.

Otherwise, if you have a drug that you’d rather get out of the house quickly, the FDA recommends checking whether it is on the flush list. Drugs on the list can be flushed down the toilet. It’s not the best option, since drugs really shouldn’t be put into the environment and sewage treatment plants don’t usually break them down—but it’s okay as a last resort. Drugs that are not on the flush list can be disposed of in the trash, following FDA instructions—but again, a takeback event is considered a better way to dispose of them.

 


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