Spring Cleaning: How to Dispose of Your Medicines
Last summer I decided that instead of paying someone a reasonable amount of money and waiting ten minutes in the air conditioning for the oil in my truck to be changed, I would do it myself.  Frugality—hmmmpf!
 
So I purchased the necessary supplies, realized I bought the wrong filter wrench and not enough oil and headed back to the auto store.  Finally half a day later and after spending $20 more than what I planned, I was all set—except for a gigantic basin full of used motor oil that can’t just be thrown in the trash (according to Google).
 
Apparently there are very specific ways to dispose of used oil making my DIY attempt even more annoying. So I called the auto store this time and asked a question similar to one that I hear from folks at the pharmacy all the time.
 
“How do I get rid of all the unused and expired drugs in my medicine cabinet?”
 
Like motor oil, there are certain procedures that should be followed when discarding old medications to ensure safe disposal.
 Brookshire Brothers Pharmacist Filling a Prescription
 
FDA’S GENERAL RECOMMENDATION
The general recommendation from the FDA for disposing of old or unused medications at home is to mix the tablets or capsules with coffee grounds, cat litter or something otherwise undesirable in a sealable bag and discard in the trash. This process makes the pills unattractive to naïve children or pets and unrecognizable to someone rummaging through the garbage in search of medications.
 
CAN I FLUSH IT?
While it is mostly true that you should never flush medications down the toilet or sink, there are some drugs that require this method due to their inherent danger. Fentanyl is a drug that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl patches, used in opioid-tolerant chronic pain, are worn for 3 days at a time, but even after 72 hours there is still some drug left in the patch.  If a child or pet were to retrieve a fentanyl patch from the garbage, the results could be fatal. While fentanyl is one of the more common medications that should be disposed of via flushing—in addition to hydromorphone, oxycodone, and morphine-containing products—a full list is available on the FDA website.
 
CAN I GIVE IT AWAY?
Never give unused medication to a family member or friend.  Just because your prescription was safe for you when prescribed does not mean it will be safe for someone else.
 
WHAT ABOUT “TAKE BACK” DAYS?
Another great option for disposal is the DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.  These events are held twice a year in April and October at local law enforcement agencies, fire departments, etc.  For questions about the next take back day and a nearby collection site, visit www.dea.gov or call 800-822-9539.
 
WHAT ABOUT THE LABEL?
Don’t forget to conceal personal information on empty pill bottle labels before throwing them away. Protect your health information by removing the label entirely and shredding it, or by scratching out your name and prescription number.
 
If you are still in doubt about how to get rid of old medications, ask your Brookshire Brothers pharmacist!  We will help you figure out a solution that won’t leave you with seven quarts of used oil in your garage—so to speak.
 

Matt Baker, Pharm.D., RPh

Matt Baker is a pharmacist with Brookshire Brothers Pharmacy in Lufkin.  He received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University in 2005 and his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Houston in 2010.  He writes a monthly pharmacy and wellness article for the Lufkin Daily News and is active in the community.  Matt's passion is serving his patients while ensuring that they are equipped to understand and take their medications properly. 

View more of Matt's articles on the Brookshire Brothers blog.