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Is it Okay if I Just Throw My Medicine Out?

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If you’ve lived a bit, more than likely you’ve had at least one tooth pulled, had a baby or two or dealt with some kind of ailment. All the things mentioned here might just call for medicine. Some of these meds are potent as with chemotherapy and certain kinds of painkillers. If not properly disposed of, children or pets can be injured.

So what can be done to ensure safety? Most would think -- just flush it down the toilet -- problem solved. But is it? In my research, I found two different opinions from two different governmental agencies. We have the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, which does not advise flushing meds at all, citing that this will prevent any pollutants from entering the water system or even affecting animal life. Specific instructions are laid out for disposing meds such as spoiling meds before dumping them into the trash. To spoil can mean adding water, salt, flour or some non-toxic spice (as turmeric or mustard) to make it foul-smelling or -looking. It was advised to keep meds in the original container (although it is important to scratch off or mark off personal information on the label). Then, duct-tape the bottle and even put it in another small container to hide the medicine bottle itself. Medicine in blister packs can be duct-taped tightly and thrown away. Finally, put in a regular trash container -- not your recycling bin.

However, the FDA, as recently as April of 2011, stated that according to research information available, there is no danger from pollutants when drugs are flushed down the toilet. The drug residue found in rivers and such are from human who naturally pass chemicals from their bodies anyway.

Their guidelines for drug disposal recommend to follow the instruction on the drug label itself. Therefore, if the drug label advises flushing unneeded medicines, then it is okay to do so. An alternative to disposing of meds yourself -- and for all those tree huggers out there -- is to contact your local drug take-back program. This information is usually found in the blue pages of your phone book. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) works along with local and state law enforcement on this program.

If your community does not have this take-back program and there are not instructions as to disposal on your meds, the FDA advises to take all meds out of their original container and mix them with, say, something like kitty litter. This makes it unrecognizable and undesirable. Then, put them in a sealable bag or empty can and close tightly before putting into a larger garbage bag.

So, even though we have some varying information here, we are left with the point that before just throwing out any medication, think. Would this cause danger to pets, wildlife or even children? And lastly, it never hurts to ask a trusted pharmacist their opinion either.


How to Dispose of Unused Medicines. U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration. Web. 21 August 2011.

How to Safely Dispose of Medications. Department of Consumer Protection – Connecticut. Web. 21 August 2011.

Dita Faulkner is a freelance writer and amateur movie buff. Her latest find: The Help. Great stuff and great movie.

Reviewed August 22, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.