What’s the Best Way to Get Rid of Old Medications?

Real Simple answers your questions.

Q. How should I dispose of medicines that have expired? 
Elizabeth Rogers
Murfreesboro, Tennessee

A. Bring them back to the drugstore, says Jan Harris, the director of environmental health and safety for Sharps Compliance, a medical- waste management company. Why? Well, as you may suspect, whether you toss drugs into the trash or flush them down the toilet, trace amounts eventually seep into the water system, where they can harm aquatic life and impair the reproductive systems of fish. When pharmacies collect over-the-counter and prescription drugs, they ship the meds to a facility where most are safely incinerated. (Some pharmacies also sell postage-paid envelopes that you can stuff and mail yourself.) National chains, like Walgreens and CVS, participate in these programs, as do many small independent pharmacies. (Find a location near you at disposemymeds.org.)

Under new regulations, pharmacies will also begin accepting controlled medications, including prescription painkillers (like oxycodone) and stimulants (like Adderall). Another option to get rid of drugs in this category is to contact your local police department to arrange for a drop-off, or attend a Drug Enforcement Administration take-back event (typically held twice a year) at more than 5,000 locations nationwide, including fire stations and supermarkets. (Find info at deadiversion.usdoj. gov.) If that is too much of a hassle, here's another option: Remove the medication from its container, mix it with used coffee grounds in a tightly sealed plastic bag, and place it in the trash. According to the Food and Drug Administration, this plan is better for the planet than flushing.

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