How to Get Rid of Old Medicines Safely

Published: January 01, 2014
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Do you have any "extra" veterinary pharmaceuticals lying around the house? You know, expired medications or drugs left over from previous illnesses or long-deceased pets. I know I do. I was looking for something in my "drug box" a couple of nights ago and ran across some prescriptions that had expired years ago. Of course, I just tossed them back in because at the moment I didn’t have the time to do anything else with them.

Disposing of drugs properly is often easier said than done. Gone are the days when flushing drugs down the toilet or washing them down the sink was an acceptable practice. Drugs are turning up in our streams, rivers, oceans and drinking water supplies, and we just don’t know what effects they may be having on wildlife and people.

So if you have some drugs lying around the house that you can no longer use, what should you do? First, check to see whether your municipality has a prescription drug disposal program. Some are associated with pharmacies, others may be run by waste disposal organizations or law enforcement agencies.

The website has a search option for finding a pharmacy near you that participates in a drug take back program, as well as a lot of other good information about the importance of proper drug disposal. The site is focused solely on the disposal of human medications, but since there is an awful lot of overlap between veterinary and human pharmaceuticals, it is very relevant.

If you can’t find a nearby drop-off location, you can buy specially designed, postage-paid envelopes at Rite-Aid and Walgreens and ship your medications to a company that runs an incinerator approved for drug disposal. You’ll need to check that the medication you need to get rid of is approved for this service. For example, controlled substances like opioid pain relievers cannot be disposed of in this manner.

If you have to hold on to unusable medications in your home for a period of time, there are a few things you can do to help keep them from contaminating the environment or being misused. For liquids or powders that are at risk of being spilled, fill a leak proof container with kitty litter, squirt or pour in the medication, and seal it up tightly. Mark the container with the names of the drugs contained inside. Tablets, capsules, and other types of pills should remain in their original packaging so they can be easily identified. If you want to make these medications less attractive to people who might misuse them, add a small amount of slightly damp kitty litter to the bottle.

Of course, another good resource is your veterinarian’s office. They should already have a relationship with a medical waste disposal company and may be willing to include medications brought back in by clients along with their regular shipments.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Today's post was originally published in December 2011

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