Unused and Expired Medications - Why and How to Dispose?

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How to Dispose Unused Medications?

Our medicine cabinets are often full of pills which are no longer required or are well beyond their expiry date. We may have either forgotten to take some medications, or stopped them as soon as we felt better or developed allergy or some other side effect.

Sometimes, we keep extra medicines like pain relievers for an emergency. It is also possible that an elderly family member who was taking the medication deceased, and now there are several unused medicines.

How to dispose Unused Medications

Why Should Unused Medications be Disposed?

A cluttered medicine cabinet makes it difficult to find a medicine when you really need it. Unused or expired medications especially prescription drugs can be a source of unwanted danger to other family members and should therefore be properly disposed. Even the otherwise safe over-the-counter drugs may be dangerous if large amounts are kept in the house.
  • A child or an elderly person may mistake one medicine for another and take the drug. Even a normal adult can mistake tablets that either look alike or whose names sound alike.
  • Several drugs like opioids which may be used by elderly may be particularly dangerous if they fall into the hands of children. Unused opioids can be a source of addiction to others.
  • If a person at home has a suicidal tendency, he /she may reach out for a handful of medicines to attempt suicide.
Unused Drugs May Lead to Suicide
  • If you do not check the expiry date, you may end up taking an expired medicine and there are chances that you could feel worse than better.

How Should Unused Medicines be Disposed?

While disposing medicines, adequate precautions should be taken so that the medicines do not reach the wrong hands or harm anybody. The FDA has outlined some guidelines for the safe disposal of medicines. Some of the ways in which unused medicines can be disposed are:
  • Through drug disposal programs: Turn in unused or expired prescription medications to drug disposal programs which are frequently held in several countries. The authorities then take the responsibility of disposing the medications safely.
  • Into household trash: Under certain circumstances, you could put the medicines in your household trash. The medicine should not be crushed, but should be mixed with some unpalatable substance and put in a sealed plastic bag before dropping it into the dustbin. The drug labelling should also be removed so that the drug is unrecognizable to anybody scanning through your trash.
Throw Unused Drugs into Household Thrash
  • Flushing down the sink or toilet: Some medications like opioid painkillers which include fentanyl, morphine, buprenorphine and oxycodone may be dangerous even if they are thrown into the trash. There have been instances where children have died following intake of these medications. People who are addicted to such medications may not hesitate to get into the trash to obtain the medication. Moreover, pets hovering around the trash may also suffer serious consequences. Ideally, such medications should be handed over to drug disposal programs. If such a take-back program is not available, the FDA suggests that the medications may be flushed down the toilet or the sink. Flushing down may not be the best way to get rid of them to their possible environmental implications, but is sometimes necessary when no other option is available and the main way a drug residue enters a water body is via human excreta.

How Do I Know which Medications Can be Disposed in the Trash?

If you are unsure of how to dispose of your medication, contact your pharmacist they will guide you regarding the same.

Should I puncture an unused or partially used asthma inhaler?

An unused asthma inhaler should not be punctured or thrown into the fire as it could explode and have dangerous consequences. Contact your pharmacist if you wish to get rid of the canister.

Can I hand over unused medications to my friends?

Prescription medications are prescribed to particular individuals after carefully diagnosing the disease condition. They are meant exclusively for the person they are prescribed for and should not be passed on to friends or other family members as it is possible the medication may do more harm than good. There are some organizations that take up recycling of medicines. They direct turned-in medicines that are within the expiry date through doctors to other patients who cannot afford the medicines. There is a slight risk that if the medications were not stored properly at home, their effectiveness may be reduced.

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