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How to Safely Dispose of Your Over the Counter Medications

I had always heard that you should never just throw out medicines. Maybe it’s because my mom is a nurse, or I just took it in along the way, but I’ve always had it in my head that medications have special guidelines when it comes to disposal. Last year, when I had surgery, I was given prescriptions for medications that actually made me hallucinate! I went back to the doctor to talk about getting something different, and I asked the nurse what I should do with the pills that I had left.

“Just throw them away,” she said. I was confused – shouldn’t I have to do something special with them? I pressed her for an answer, and she thought about it for a few minutes before saying, “Yah, I guess throwing them away isn’t the best thing. Huh. I’m not sure.”

I started thinking about all of the medications, both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) that I had in my cupboard. Eventually they would expire or become redundant, and I started seriously wondering what the proper disposal methods are. After all, what if I threw them away and a neighborhood cat got into the garbage and ate one? Or, heaven forbid, a child managed to find some pills and eat them? The thought kept me awake that night.

The next day, I made it my mission to learn about safe disposal methods. I found out really quickly that the DEA hosts periodic National Prescription Drug Take-Back events where people can take their expired or unused prescription drugs back to safe collection sites in their communities. But that was prescription drugs only. What do you do with OTC drugs?

How to Safely Dispose of Your Medications

As I continued my research, I began to think about the last time I had cleaned out my household supply of over-the-counter medicines. The truth was – I’d NEVER done it. I’d never even really paid attention to expiration dates except occasionally when I’d reach for some children’s medication and found it unusable. In those cases, I’d just thrown away the bottle.  I didn’t take any chances with my kids. But when it comes to adult medications, I realized I wasn’t really paying attention. Just like the dosing instructions and additional information on the label, the expiration date on the packaging is there for reason. Once a medicine has reached its expiration date, it may not provide the treatment that you need.

After looking through our medicine cabinet, I realized we had several expired pill bottles and even some expired vitamins and supplements! Yikes!  That’s when I finally found the answer to how to safely dispose of OTC medications.

How to Safely Dispose of Your Medications

In-home disposal of all OTCs is safe and convenient. Follow these simple steps from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to dispose of OTCs in your household trash:

  1. Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds.
  2. Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
  3. Throw the container in your household trash.

Really it couldn’t be simpler, and it’s such an important housekeeping task. It is a great thing to do when you’re spring cleaning. Or, do as I now do and check your medicine cabinet at the same time as you change your smoke detector batteries. We do this twice a year, as Daylight Savings Time begins and ends, and it means one less thing to worry about!

Here is some interesting new data on the issue of safe disposal:

  • According to research conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the CHPA Educational Foundation, 62% of adults have never sought information on how to properly dispose their expired over-the-counter (OTC) medicines
  • 50% of adults say they typically dispose of unwanted or expired OTC meds in the trash but only 8% mix them with undesirable substances before tossing.

Find more information on safe disposal or the consumer survey on the KYOTCs site here

How to Safely Dispose of Your Medications

I am so proud to be partnering with the CHPA Educational Foundation’s KnowYourOTCs blogging program, and I want to remind you that all opinions are my own. 

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