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Saturday October 19, 2019

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Safe Ways to Get Rid of Expired, Unused Medicine

What is the best and environmentally safe way to dispose of old and unused medications? My mother has a medicine cabinet full of pills, some of which have not been touched in 25 years. I would like to clean it out for her.

Cleaning out the medicine cabinet is a chore that most people do not think about. It is an important task that can help prevent problems and protect children who may have access to these old, unused drugs. Here are some tips to help clean out your mother's medicine cabinet.

Return Them

Your local pharmacy, hospital, clinic, long-term-care facility or narcotic treatment program might accept your mom's unused medications. Often, there are "collect and destroy" programs that will accept old, unused prescriptions. Search for an authorized facility near you at

You can also drop off her unused medicines at designated police departments, fire stations and other sites on National Prescription Take Back Day, which is held on Saturday, April 27. To find a collection site near you, visit

Use a Disposal Kiosk

Many Walgreens and CVS stores have free, anonymous and secure kiosks where you can dispose of medications. Remove your personal information from the package and drop unwanted medication, including opioids, in the slot.

Mail Them

Costco, Rite Aid and CVS pharmacies sell postage-paid envelopes for customers to mail unused prescriptions, including opioids and over-the-counter medications, to a disposal facility.

Throw Them Out

While the above-mentioned options are preferred, you may dispose of them yourself. But do so carefully. The Food and Drug Administration recommends removing the medications from their original package and placing them in a sealable plastic bag with an undesirable substance like coffee grounds, dirt or cat litter. You should then seal the plastic bag and throw it in the trash. This will make the medication less appealing to children, pets or other people who may come in contact with your trash.

For some drugs, such as opioids, the FDA suggests flushing them down the toilet. However, this should only be done as a last resort because trace amounts of flushed drugs can pollute the water supply. To see the FDA list of medications that may be flushed, go to and type "flush list" into the search box.

Another option is to purchase some medication disposal bags, such as the Medsaway Medication Disposal System. Typically, medication disposal bags are carbon pouches that are designed to neutralize all medication including narcotics, liquid medication, transdermal patches and controlled substances. Once the medication is inside the pouch, you will need to add water and place the bag in the trash. You can find medication disposal bags at some local pharmacies or online for approximately $15.

You will also want to remove your mom's personal information from the empty medicine packaging before throwing it away to protect her identity and privacy. If you have other questions about proper drug disposal, talk to her pharmacist.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published April 26, 2019
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