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Here’s what to do with your expired or unused medications

| Healthy You

Close-up of bottles of medications in medicine cabinet with blurry image of woman in background

It’s a healthy practice to clean out old meds once or twice a year.

When was the last time you looked at what was in your medicine cabinet?

Now is a good time to check your cupboards, drawers, fridge or nightstand for bottles, jars and tubes. National Drug Take Back Days happen every April and October.

“Regularly getting rid of old or unneeded medications is a healthy practice,” says Jeffrey Corsentino, pharmacy director at PeaceHealth St Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Washington.

Cleaning out helps you keep

  • Young children, teens, pets or others in the house from accidentally taking something that could make them sick.
  • From using something that has gone bad or lost its potency.
  • Old meds from getting mixed up with new ones.

It’s safest to keep only what you need, he says.

General rules about disposal

Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to cleaning out your medications.

Some medications might be used only until you feel better. If you don’t expect to need or use the rest before the expiration date, consider getting rid of it.

Don’t throw prescription medications into the garbage or flush them. There are some exceptions. Check the “flush list” to see what can or should be flushed at home, according to the government. Corsentino emphasizes this applies at home only. Hospitals and other healthcare workplaces follow stricter guidelines for disposal.

Where to take old meds

“The best way to dispose of old medications is to drop them off in authorized return bins at local pharmacies or even at the police station. They are self-serve and no questions asked,” he says. “Plus there are many locations to pick from.”

Here are the various options for getting rid of medications: 

What meds to take

In general, you can take prescription and over-the-counter medications — expired or not — to events or kiosks.

Check with your pharmacy or event to see if there are any items they can’t take.

If you need to dispose of needles or other sharps, see this list of locations and instructions.

How to prepare 

  • Check the kiosk or event for hours.
  • Review instructions on what can be accepted.
  • Leave each med in its original package with the name of the drug clearly visible. 
  • Cross out personal info to protect your privacy or the privacy of the person for whom it was prescribed.

“Making a regular habit of checking your medicine cabinet will help you keep your family safe,” says Corsentino. “Disposing of old drugs in the right way also protects the community and our environment.”

If you have any questions, talk to your pharmacist or ask your doctor for advice.