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Is your medicine cabinet full of expired drugs or medications you no longer use? How should you dispose of them?

During the Prescription Take Back Day on April 29, 2017 more than 36 tons of drugs were returned in Texas at 306 collection sites.  To find a location near you, click here.

The 14th National Prescription Take Back Day is on Saturday, October 28, 2017.  Created by the Drug Enforcement Administration Diversion Control Division, Drug Take Back Day is a community based program that offers the best option for disposing of expired or no longer needed drugs.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has some great information about disposing of expired or unneeded drugs that we have included below. 

A small number of medicines may be especially harmful if taken by someone other than the person for whom the medicine was prescribed. Many of these medicines have specific disposal instructions on their labeling or patient information leaflet to immediately flush them down the sink or toilet when they are no longer needed. 

Drug Disposal Guidelines and Locations

The following guidelines were developed to encourage the proper disposal of medicines and help reduce harm from accidental exposure or intentional misuse after they are no longer needed:

  • Follow any specific disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanies the medicine. Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
  • Take advantage of programs that allow the public to take unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. To find locations for the Prescription Take Back day, click here.

If no disposal instructions are given on the prescription drug labeling and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash following these steps:

  • Remove them from their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds, dirt or kitty litter (this makes the drug less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through the trash seeking drugs).
  • Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
  • When in doubt about proper disposal, ask your pharmacist.

Why the Precautions?

Some prescription drugs such as powerful narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances carry instructions for flushing to reduce the danger of unintentional use or overdose and illegal abuse.

For example, the fentanyl patch, an adhesive patch that delivers a potent pain medicine through the skin, comes with instructions to flush used or leftover patches. Too much fentanyl can cause severe breathing problems and lead to death in babies, children, pets and even adults, especially those who have not been prescribed the medicine.

Environmental Concerns

Some people are questioning the practice of flushing certain medicines because of concerns about trace levels of drug residues found in surface water, such as rivers and lakes, and in some community drinking water supplies.

“The main way drug residues enter water systems is by people taking medicines and then naturally passing them through their bodies,” says Raanan Bloom, Ph.D., an environmental assessment expert at FDA. “Many drugs are not completely absorbed or metabolized by the body and can enter the environment after passing through wastewater treatment plants.”

FDA reviewed drug labels to identify products with disposal directions recommending flushing down the sink or toilet. This continuously updated listing can be found at FDA’s Web page on Disposal of Unused Medicines.

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