Real Simpleanswers your questions.

By Real Simple
Updated July 17, 2009
Bottle of prescription medication with pills
What the doctor wants you to know:“Viral infections, despite being very annoying, need to run their course. They do not get better with antibiotics, and using antibiotics when they are not necessary promotes resistant bacteria,” says Diane M. Straub, an associate professor of pediatrics and the chief of the division of adolescent medicine at the University of South Florida, in Tampa. “If you aren’t sure what your child has, check with her doctor before giving her any medication.” Where she slacks off: “I don’t remember to give my daughter vitamins consistently at all.”
| Credit: Amy Wilson

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

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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