The Best Way to Dispose of Expired Medication

The month of January has brought all kinds of sicknesses to my house. In fact, we’ve renamed January to Sickuary. If it wasn’t the cedar making us feel like death was knocking on our door, it was a virus of some sort that knocked one or all of us out. On one such day when my son was home from school sick, I was searching for a particular medication in the very crowded medicine cabinet. I opened the door, reached around (there are three shelves that have bottles of meds in this cabinet) and soon found that many of them were falling out of the cabinet and onto my head. Instead of saying a bunch of bad words to relieve my anger of being attacked so early in the morning, I decided to yank all of the bottles out and do something revolutionary: dispose of the ones that were expired or not in use.

Fifteen minutes later, I had two small plastic bags full of medication that I needed to get rid of, but I had no idea of how to go about it. I’ve heard many reports about our drinking water and bodies of water being contaminated with antibiotics, pain meds, mood stabilizers and more (find out how contaminated the water is in your state here). I knew that flushing them down the toilet wasn’t an option, and I didn’t think throwing them into the trash as is would work either. Not knowing the best way to go about my task, I posted a question on Facebook about it and received lots of good advice.

Kimberly Chapman, a local mama, did some research a couple of years ago for a thread about this very subject on the Austin Mamas mailing list. She was kind enough to share the info with us here at LiveMom! (“She” below refers to the manager at the city’s solid waste office). Here’s what Kimberly sent to me:

1)The City’s residential hazardous waste office isn’t technically
supposed to take any drugs, but if someone shows up with a small
amount of non-prescription stuff to dispose of, they’ll take it.  But
she emphasized to me that they’re really not supposed to, so PLEASE
do not inundate their office with medications.

2) Otherwise, she said to go with the federal guidelines which say,
as others have mentioned, to package any pills, prescription or
otherwise, with something “undesirable” like coffee grounds, seal
them in the bottle, put that in a ziplock back, and put it in the
regular trash.

Definitely DO NOT FLUSH the pills regardless of what pharmacies say.Advertisement
She agreed that the trash solution isn’t a great one.  We didn’t get
into details, but as I’ve mentioned before, back when I was being
eco-activist girl, I saw a presentation on how garbage dumps are not
stable places where a pill bottle or plastic bag remains
unruptured.  Turnover, stacking, weather, etc. all can cause that
stuff to eventually leak out and end up in our groundwater.

So if you have to get rid of some meds, do it that way, but maybe in
all of our copious free time (hah) we need to get the feds to come in
with a better plan for this and lots of other waste-management issues.

Kimberly also mentioned that she had heard about bags that are available at Walgreens. I went to my local Walgreens in Pflugerville and bought one of these:

For $2.99 ($3.15 with tax) you can purchase this bag, fill it up with meds (the pharmacist recommended putting the vials in instead of just dumping in the pills) and then mail it off– postage is pre-paid. For a list of locations where the bag is available, click here.  There are certain controlled medications that are not allowed to be disposed of through this service so be sure to check out the approved list before mailing them out. There are also many drug take-back programs available, although I could not find one that is happening in our area.

There are currently two pharmacies in Austin that take back meds: Live Oak Pharmacy and Lamar Plaza Drug Store. Again, they cannot take controlled substances and do have some restrictions on the size of meds that they can take back. You are required to fill out a form listing some basic information about the medication, but the service is free to the public.

Do you know of any other ways to dispose of unused medications?

Catherine Prystup
About Catherine Prystup 2157 Articles
Catherine Prystup founded LiveMom.com out of a desire to build a better community for Austin-area moms. She has three children, ages seventeen, eight and three years old.

4 Comments on The Best Way to Dispose of Expired Medication

  1. this is awesome info! i have at least 3 sharps containers full of needles from my infertility treatments and diabetes therapy, and i have no idea what to do with those. i have gotten a couple of suggestions, but i didn’t like them (duct tape the containers and put in the trash…hmmm…NO). this article gives me the shove i need to find a way to safely dispose of all these needles…knowing there’s a way to safely dispose of meds encourages me to believe there has to be a safe way for an individual to dispose of needles.

  2. Yay, so glad you found out about the bags! Thanks!

    To Lori: Austin does have an official way to dispose of sharps:

    http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/sws/disposal_index_m.htm#medical_waste

    Medical Waste

    Syringes, needles, or sharps should be placed in a sturdy plastic container with a tight fitting lid, such as, a laundry detergent bottle. The bottle then needs to be taped shut and labeled syringes, sharps, or needles. The bottle can then be placed in your regular trash. DO NOT put this container in your recycling. If you need more information call Solid Waste Services at 494-9400.

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