Brickmont Assisted Living Blog

Medication Safety: How to Dispose of Old or Unused Medications

Posted by The Brickmont Assisted Living Team on Jan 15, 2024 8:00:00 AM | 4 minute read


If your medicine cabinet is full of expired prescriptions or even some medications that haven’t been used, it can be confusing to know exactly what should be done. Many online resources share information regarding instructions for disposal, but medications vary when it comes to proper disposal. 

At Brickmont Assisted Living, we provide exceptional senior living near Atlanta and strive to provide resources to help individuals learn more about all aspects of aging, including medication safety. If you’re curious about how you should be disposing of unused or expired medications, here are some tips to get you started. 

Importance of Medication Safety

About 60% of adults in the United States take some form of prescription medication every day. Each prescription comes with information regarding the usage and results of the medication but usually lacks information about how to dispose of the medication, should there be any remaining. 

It’s essential to dispose of medications responsibly, as improper disposal can lead to environmental issues. In fact, there are many cases in which pharmaceuticals have been detected in surface water. Although this level has been found to have minimal negative effects on human and animal health, it’s still a worldwide issue that must be solved and dealt with accordingly. 

By flushing unused prescriptions down the toilet or throwing them into the sink drain, people are essentially sending their medications straight into the environment, whether they end up in the ocean or a nearby water source. Not only do these medications end up harming animals in the wild, but they can vastly affect our ecosystems. 

Disposal of Unused Medications

If you take your medications as prescribed by your doctor, you must also commit to disposing of any leftover or unused medications in an appropriate manner. There are many options for getting rid of medications, and if you or someone you love regularly takes some form of medicine, it’s important to know what you should do with any unused or unopened prescriptions.Take Back Options and Programs

Medicine take-back options are the best way to safely dispose of any medications that are either unused or expired, and there are two kinds of take-back options: Permanent collection sites and periodic take-back events. 

Permanent collection sites are either facilities or businesses officially registered with the DEA and gather expired or unused medicines to dispose of accordingly. Some of these collection sites are either retail, hospital, or clinic pharmacies, and sometimes they’re law enforcement facilities. 

Periodic take-back events are hosted periodically and are collection sites set up in various communities around the country to safely allow people to dispose of their prescriptions. 

What If No Take-Back Options Are Available?

Some people wonder if it’s okay to flush certain medications down the toilet when there are no readily available take-back options. However, the Office of the Attorney General states that you should not flush prescription drugs down the toilet or drain unless specifically instructed on the label or by accompanying patient guide.

If disposal instructions are not listed on the prescription drug label, and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs out in your household trash following these steps. 

  1. Remove the drugs from the original container and mix them with something undesirable, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. This makes the drug less appealing to children and animals and unrecognizable to people who may go through your trash intentionally seeking drugs.

  2. Next, place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the drug from leaking out of the garbage bag.

“Remember to properly dispose of the medication container also.  Before throwing out your pill or medicine bottle, scratch out all of the identifying information (including your name, address, the name of your doctor, and the name of the drug itself) on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information (”

Dangers of Expired Drugs

Whether you utilize a permanent collection site or a periodic take-back event, it’s important that you do not keep unused or expired medications in your home. You might be endangering the well-being of yourself and your family by doing so. In fact, the American Association of Poison Control Centers found that there were over 294,317 cases of improper medication usage in the year 2019, with 9% of those cases involving accidental exposure to another person’s medication. 

Remember that, if found in the wrong hands, medications can be extremely dangerous. Your prescriptions are selected specifically for you by a healthcare provider for your own specific conditions. 

At Brickmont Assisted Living, our senior living communities serving Atlanta, Georgia, take medication safety incredibly seriously. If you’re unsure about the proper disposal of your medications, talk to your pharmacist.

If you have any questions regarding Brickmont Assisted Living or would like to learn more about our services, please contact one of our senior living experts.

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