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Getting Medical Care

Getting Rid of Old Medicines

Lee este articuloYou’ve probably heard that you’re not supposed to pour old medicines down the toilet or drain. That’s because they can get into the water supply and cause problems for people and wildlife.

But you can’t just toss containers of pills and capsules into the trash either. They might fall into the wrong hands — along with your private health information (if it’s a prescription). Or kids or pets might find them and mistake them for treats.

So what should you do? Destroy old medicines before putting them in the trash.

Here’s how:

  • Dump the medicine out of its container into a sealable plastic bag. Separating the medicine from the container means anyone who finds the pills or capsules won’t know what they are. You can mix different kinds of medicines in the same bag. Just be sure to use a plastic bag that can be tightly sealed, like a zipper lock sandwich bag.
  • Destroy the medicine. Add a small amount of water to the bag to dissolve the pills or capsules. Then, add something that’s not food, like kitty litter, shredded paper, sawdust, coffee grounds, or dirt. That way, if kids or animals find the medicine mix, they won’t be able to eat it.
  • Seal up the bag and throw it away in the regular trash.
  • Before you throw away prescription containers, take off the labels. Removing the label and destroying it helps you keep your medical information private. You don’t want your name, address, and other personal information showing up next to the name of the drug you are taking. If you can’t remove the label, take a marker and black out your personal information.

A small number of prescription medications are especially dangerous and need to be disposed of right away when they are no longer needed. These medicines should be flushed down the toilet for safety reasons. If your prescription is one of these, the label or sticker on the container should say so.

Another good way to get rid of old medicines is to take them to a medicine “take-back” program organized by a pharmacy, community organization, or government agency.

If you have a lot of old medicines, or questions about getting rid of medicines, talk to your pharmacist.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: September 2014