Don’t Flush Your Meds! Here’s What to do Instead.

Over the years, it’s easy to let a medicine cabinet fill up with partially filled or expired prescription medications. By taking a few minutes to clear the shelves, you can help prevent events such as poisoning of children and pets, misuse by teens and adults, health crises from mixing up medications and more.

Saturday, April 30 is the 20th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. On this day, designated locations across the country will open their doors (typically from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) to provide a convenient drop-off location for any unneeded prescription medications. It’s a reminder to us of the importance of cleaning out our medicine cabinets for any expired and/or unused drugs, but also the proper way(s) of disposing of them.

Why don’t we flush our prescription medicines?

It’s important to get expired and/or unused medications out of the house but washing them down the sink or flushing them in the toilet is NOT the answer.

Prescription medications not only do not belong in your water system, but also have the potential to cause it serious harm. For example, in homes that depend on septic tanks, drugs (both prescription and over the counter) flushed down the toilet can leach into the ground, reaching the groundwater that lies below. If your pipes in your community lead back to a wastewater treatment plant, any drugs that go down your drain have the potential of reaching local bodies of water such as rivers and lakes if not caught by the treatment cycle. These bodies of water can be home to a wide variety of wildlife in addition to serving as sources for drinking water supply.

First choice: Drug Take Back locations

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the U.S. Department of Justice has an easy-to-use search tool that, based on your ZIP code, provides a list of controlled substance public disposal locations in your area. While most will be holding special events on April 30, many of these locations are permanent – offering drop-off services throughout the year.

Second choice: safe household disposal

There are some situations where people may not have access to a prescription drop-off location on April 30 or any other day of the year. In recognition of this, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides instructions on the safest way to dispose of these drugs at home:

  1. Take prescription drugs out of their original containers.
  2. Mix the drugs with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or unused coffee grounds.  All medications should be taken to a disposal location if possible, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has a flush list of all the medications that can, if absolutely necessary, be flushed. However, please try to find an alternative method of disposal rather than flushing.
  3. Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tube, or into a sealable bag.
  4. Conceal or remove any personal information, including Rx number, on the empty containers by covering it with permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off.
  5. Place the sealed container with the drug mixture and the empty drug containers in the trash. 

For more information on how to participate in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, visit the DEA’s website.