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Q: How do I properly dispose of my expired or unneeded medications?

There are many reasons why prescriptions may need to be thrown away. Certain medications may not work well for you, or you might feel better before finishing the entire amount of medicine prescribed to you. Your medications may also expire. Billions of prescriptions are filled in the United States each year so you can imagine how much of that goes unused.

In the wrong hands, some of these drugs and medications can be dangerous, even fatal. It is very important that children and pets always be kept away from being able to access any drugs or medicines. This is why it is so important to know now to property dispose of medications.

If your medications have expired, or you no longer need them, there are ways to ensure you are safely disposing of them. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that, if possible, you return them to prescription drug take-back programs. These are offered both as periodic events at collection sites through National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, held twice a year in April and October, and permanent drug collection locations. These may be located within hospitals, physician offices, law enforcement agencies, and retail pharmacies. More and more drugstores are setting up drop-off boxes where you can return unused medication anytime.

In Hawaii, medication drop boxes are available to help people safely dispose of medications throughout the year. It is a free and anonymous service and drop boxes are available on every island. For more information, visit www.hawaiiopioid.org.

In most cases, it is not recommended to flush expired or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter drugs down the toilet or drain unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs you to do so. Dumping medications down the toilet or drain can contaminate rivers, lakes, or sources of drinking water. There are a small number of specific prescription drugs that are recommended for disposal by flushing by the FDA. If you can’t get a drug to a take-back location, check the FDA flush list, available online at www.fda.gov.

If there are no drug take-back sites or programs are available in your area, and there are no specific disposal instructions (such as flushing) in the medication guide or package insert, there are ways to dispose of them safety at home. Tips include mixing liquid or pill medications with an unappealing substance like dirt, used coffee grounds, or cat litter and then placing this mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag before throwing away. Make sure to also delete and remove all personal information on the prescription bottle or medication packaging before disposing of or recycling the empty container. For more information on proper disposal of medications, visit www.fda.gov/drugs.