What to do with your unused or expired medications

A woman holds a prescription bottle while leaning over a table.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day happens in April and October each year.

With events in communities across the country, it’s a great opportunity to safely dispose of any unused or expired medications.

While it may not seem like a big deal to keep those medications in your cabinet, drawer, or favorite storage spot, it could have serious health and safety consequences for you and your loved ones.

You could end up taking expired medications accidentally

Taking an expired medication could cause health problems. Medications contain active ingredients that degrade and become less effective over time. There are also risks that as medications degrade, other chemical compounds could develop that could cause unintended side effects.

Your medications could end up in the wrong hands (or paws)

Many people keep their medications in places that are convenient and easy to reach. But that also means it could end up in the hands and mouths of children or pets and lead to an accidental overdose. With older kids, it could lead to drug misuse or drug addiction.

How to get rid of your medications safely

When you no longer need a medication or it has expired, it’s best to dispose of it or discard it immediately. This applies to both prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Here are three recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for getting rid of your medications:

  • Drug take-back sites: The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors National Prescription Drug Take Back Day twice a year in communities nationwide. If those dates don’t work for you, there are disposal locations open year round.
  • FDA Flush List: If your drug contains an opioid, it may be on the FDA Flush List. If you don’t have a drug take-back location near you and your medication is on the list, you should flush it down the toilet. Make sure it’s on the list first.
  • Trash at home: If your medication is not on the FDA’s Flush List, you should mix the medication with an undesirable substance (like cat litter or used coffee grounds), place the mixture in a sealable bag, and throw it out in the trash. Be sure to remove any personal information from medication containers before throwing them away.

If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist

Make it part of your medication routine to keep a list of the medications in your house, check expiration dates regularly, and get rid of any expired or leftover medications. And if you ever have any questions, give your pharmacist a call. Express Scripts® Pharmacy provides 24/7 access to pharmacists, so you always have the support you need.

Posted date: September 10, 2021

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