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We all have expired, unused medication somewhere in our homes. Whether over-the-counter meds, prescription drugs, or vitamins and supplements, they were once critical to bringing us back to full health… But now they a risk.

But not correctly disposing of them can pose a massive threat of unintentional poisoning. In 2019, there were 294,317 cases of improper medicine use, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Approximately 9% of those cases — about 26,317 — involved accidental exposure to another person’s medicine. Of those, approximately 3,846 of these accidental exposure cases involved children 5 years and younger. The most frequent accidental poisonings occur in children ages 1-2, but the more severe risk lies with teens and adults. A significant percentage of male children under 13 are involved in poison exposure, but the trend switches to more females as children become teens and adults.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers managed more than 2.6 million cases by telephone in 2019, with nearly 2.1 million concerning people who came into contact with potentially harmful substances, 49% of which involved pharmaceuticals.

Some medications can be fatal, with just one dose, if used by someone other than for whom it was prescribed. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that people lock up medications and quickly dispose of extra doses to protect against accidental exposure or ingestion. They recommend the following to dispose of unused medications properly:

  • Local medication take-back program

The best disposal option is using a local medication take-back program operated by local law enforcement agencies. Many county agencies and police departments offer take-back events or have permanent drug drop boxes available during regular business hours. You also can contact your local waste management authority to learn about medication disposal options and guidelines for your area.

  • Bring it back to a pharmacy

You can ALWAYS bring unused medication into any pharmacy. Ask to speak with the pharmacist, and they will take care of it, no questions asked.

  • Flush down the toilet

If you must flush the unused or expired meds, make sure you check out the list of medications that can be flushed if a take-back center is not available.

  • Disposal in household trash
If you have no other option but to throw away your unused meds at home, there are a few simple steps to follow:
  1. Mix medicines with an unpalatable substance, such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds.
  2. Place the mixture in a container, such as a sealed plastic bag.
  3. Throw the container in your household trash.
  4. Scratch out all personal information on the prescription label of the empty pill bottle or medicine packaging to make it unreadable and dispose of the container.

It is crucial to dispose of unused or expired meds quickly and adequately. You will definitely make everyone around you safer. Especially the little ones!