Monday, November 22, 2010

Myth: I should flush my expired prescription drugs and medications down the toilet.

Answer: Busted!

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), consumers should take certain precautions before tossing expired medication. A few drugs can be flushed down the toilet. However, many drugs can be thrown in the household trash. And a growing number of community-based "take-back" programs offer safe disposal alternatives. These programs allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government's household trash and recycling service to see if a take-back program is available in your community.

Guidelines for Drug Disposal
In February 2007, the FDA worked with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to develop the first consumer guide for proper disposal of prescription drugs. A summary of the federal guidelines include:
  • Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
  • If no instructions are given, throw the drugs in the household trash, but first:
    • Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
    • Put them in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
Some additional tips include:
  • Before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.
  • Do not give medications to friends. Doctors prescribe drugs based on a person's specific symptoms and medical history. A drug that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.
  • When in doubt about proper disposal, talk to your pharmacist.
Visit the FDA website for additional information about drug disposal.

Contributor: Maude Harris, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, (573) 545-3516

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