APRIL 29, 2022 – Whether living on a military installation or within the local community, it is important to know the options available to responsibly and safely dispose of unused, unwanted, or expired household prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
Some reasons to periodically clean out the medicine cabinet to remove unwanted prescription drugs is to prevent accidental poisoning, overdose, or abuse when used by someone to whom they were not prescribed. Another reason is to protect the environment by NOT flushing medications down the toilet or sink to keep them from eventually getting into our drinking water.
“Medication safety is more than just getting the right medication to the right patient,” said Army Maj. Emily Holcomb, pharmacist, Institute for Safe Medication Practices. “Protecting the environment and preventing the wrong medication from getting to the wrong person are also part of medication safety. Proper removal and disposal of unused and expired drugs in your household is a safe, easy, and responsible way to help reduce the risk of unintended and accidental medication related harm to our military members, families, and communities worldwide.”
The following provides a description of four options available for household drug disposal. Not all options may be available in a particular area, and some are only available on certain dates or times or should be considered only as a final option. The U.S. Army Public Health Center provides additional information on the disposal options.
National Prescription Drug Take Back Day
First up, and probably the best disposal option if available, is to participate in a drug take back program, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, scheduled to be held on April 30. The DEA partners with local law enforcement in communities across the country to host national take back days twice a year, usually in April and October. During these events, the public can safely and anonymously bring their unwanted prescription and OTC drugs to one of the event locations, no questions asked, to keep them out of the hands of others and to protect the environment through proper disposal.
In their most recent prescription drug take back event this past October, the DEA, along with its law enforcement partners, reported removing close to 745,000 pounds of unneeded prescriptions from medicine cabinets across the country. Since the program’s inception in 2010, more than 15.2 million pounds of medication have been removed from circulation.
“This event is a safe, easy, and responsible way for people to dispose of potentially harmful, unused, and expired drugs that have been sitting around in their homes,” said Holcomb. “Proper removal and disposal of unused and expired drugs from your home reduces the risk of people taking medications not as intended, which helps reduce the chance of medication related events and deaths that impact military members, families, and communities worldwide. Be a part of the solution by preventing potential medication errors and the potential for prescription drug abuse; take back your unused medications on 30 April.”
DEA Year-Round Authorized Collectors
But what if it’s May, and the next DEA Prescription Drug Take Back Day won’t happen until October? Fear not, there is yet another drug take back option available. DEA Authorized Collectors provide year-round drop off locations to the public to dispose of their unwanted drugs. These Authorized Collectors include commercial pharmacies already located in the community as well as the pharmacies located in military installation medical treatment facilities. The DEA has a convenient search utility on the web to help find a location near you, by either zip code or city and state. In addition, there is now a Google Maps feature being rolled out to include all states, where typing “drug drop off near me” in the search feature will show the permanent disposal locations in your community.
These participating locations provide a secure, designated collection receptacle (which usually looks like a mailbox) available to the public during normal business hours to personally deposit unwanted OTC and prescription drugs. The collection receptacles will have instructions posted on them for what is, and is not, accepted for disposal.
Lastly, if waiting for a Take Back Day is not possible and there is no DEA Authorized Collector near you, as a final option and by following some proper procedures, you can dispose of your household drugs in your regular trash or, in certain instances, flush them down your toilet or sink.
Disposal in Household Garbage
To avoid potential drug abuse or accidental poisoning, disposal within the household can be conducted by mixing the unwanted drugs with an unpalatable substance (such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds) within a sealed container (such as a used detergent bottle) and placed in the general trash.
Flushing Down the Toilet or Sink
To protect our waterways and keep unused drugs from contaminating our drinking water, flushing of medications down a toilet or sink should only be done for those drugs specifically on the Food and Drug Administration Flush List, which is used for those drugs that are sought-after for their misuse and/or abuse potential or that can result in death from one dose if inappropriately taken. Flushing unwanted drugs or pouring them down the drain should be a last-resort option because most medications are not removed by wastewater treatment plants or septic systems. Although they may end up being at very low concentrations, studies have shown these pharmaceuticals can still hurt aquatic life.
There you have it, some easy and convenient ways you can dispose of unwanted household pharmaceuticals and feel good about doing it.
The U.S. Army Public Health Center enhances Army readiness by identifying and assessing current and emerging health threats, developing and communicating public health solutions, and assuring the quality and effectiveness of the Army’s Public Health Enterprise.
By Dennis Poyer, Physical Scientist (Environmental), U.S. Army Pubic Health Center