Disposing of Meds Properly
By Christine H.

When we think about drug addiction rates and illicit substances, we usually imagine that these problems are far away from our own homes. Few of us consider the fact that we’re harboring dangerous, illicit substances in our very own bathroom cabinets. But when you have children in the house, you need to be aware of the risk.

One of the biggest concerns today in substance abuse and addiction is prescription medications, and how they’re misused. Many of the most popular addictive substances on the market are casually prescribed to individuals. It’s very possible that right at this moment, you have some old expired meds hanging around that could be a major danger to your children at any age.

Addiction Risk

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 5 years, you’ve heard about something called the opioid crisis. Over 100 people die per day because of opioid-related problems; usually overdose. The most common street drug that classifies as an opioid is heroin. What’s amazing, though, is that 80% of people in treatment for heroin addiction started the pathway to addiction through abusing prescription medications. (Beef up on some more facts about heroin here.) According to the CDC, “from 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids. Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999.”

1 in 4 teens has reported abusing prescription medications, which includes taking prescription drugs recreationally. The vast majority of these minors get those medications from their household bathroom cabinets. This problem is only growing, and so it’s up to us to protect ourselves and our families from the dangers of prescription abuse.

Medication Misuse

Few of us realize that we’re engaging in prescription medication misuse, and we don’t understand what kind of impact it can have. Here are some behaviors that constitute medication misuse:

  • Taking more or less than your prescription calls for.
  • Mixing medications with other substances.
  • Taking medications in a different form from how it’s prescribed. (i.e. crushing pills, neglecting to follow instructions about whether or not to take meds on an empty stomach, etc.)
  • Taking them for longer than they’ve been prescribed.
  • Administering meds to people other than who they’ve been specifically prescribed for.
  • Going to another doctor to get additional medication without fully disclosing all previous prescribing information from other doctors.
What Should You Do with Old Meds?

Alright, so you understand that it’s important to be careful with your old medications. But what’s the best way to dispose of them? Here’s the information you need to know about each approach:


Flushing old meds is largely discouraged, since putting these chemicals into our water supply can potentially have a terrible impact on wildlife. Whenever possible, opt for takeback programs, or return old meds to your local pharmacy. However, if these programs or options are difficult to manage, take a look at the FDA’s flush list. This is a list of medications that the FDA has deemed dangerous enough to humans to warrant simply flushing them down the toilet in order to curtail abuse. You can also read more about the most dangerous medications here.


Some medications are safe enough to dispose of in the trash. Often, you can find specific information about disposal on your medication’s label. If your label doesn’t specify anything, the medication isn’t on the flush list (mentioned above,) and it’s difficult for you to access a takeback program or facility (usually available at your local pharmacy) then you can trash the medication instead.

The FDA advises individuals to take these measures when trashing medication:

  1. Mix medicines with something unsavory, such as cat litter, coffee grounds, rotten food, dirt, etc.
  2. Contain medicines (and the random thing you mixed them with) in a plastic bag.
  3. Throw meds in the household trash.
  4. Black out personal info found on your prescription label before you throw it away.

Takeback Programs

Organizations and businesses around the country are mobilizing to make it easier and safer to dispose of medications responsibly. For example, you can search on CVS’s website for a safe disposal location. You can also dispose of medications safely at most Walgreen’s locations. There are also initiatives like the government’s Take Back Day, which happens twice a year.

This is hands-down the best, most responsible way to dispose of medications. Whenever possible, follow up on these programs and resources in order to dispose of your old medications safely.


"Time spent with cats is never wasted." ~ Sigmund Freud