How to Get Rid of Old Medications

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Drug Takeback And Recycling Programs

recycle old medications
Creative Commons License photo credit: AKZOphoto

Your old, unused, expired medications and over-the-counter pills should be thrown away responsibly. Wastewater treatment plants are designed to remove human waste, not pharmaceutical drugs, and though landfills are usually managed well, drugs still leach into surrounding groundwater and rivers. Therefore your options are clear:

  • Don’t flush old drugs and prescriptions down the toilet and
  • Don’t just throw them away

The Answer: Drug Takeback Programs

Upwards of 4 billion prescriptions are written annually in the United States, and some estimate that roughly 40 percent of drugs dispensed out of hospitals go unused. One of the biggest challenges to drug recycling programs is getting the word out that collection of expired medications is happening. Besides keeping unwanted drugs out of the water supply, these programs also reduce poisonings from expired drugs, as well as prevent the intentional misuse of prescriptions.

The Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 was signed into law by President Obama in October 2010. Since that time, thousands of sites nationwide have joined in to recycle old medications. Government, community, public health and law enforcement partners collect potentially dangerous expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs for destruction sites across the nation.

The legislation allows patients who legally obtained a controlled substance to deliver medicines to drug take-back and recycling programs that haven’t formally registered with the DEA. The act makes it easier for people and facilities to recycle old medications and unused drugs, rather than having to formally hand over medications to law enforcement agencies.

Collection sites in every local community can be found by going to the Got Drugs? site. This site is continuously updated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and is updated frequently with takeback locations and announcements about their initiatives.

Find a pharmacy on the IPA site which provides a great place to search for pharmacies by zip code after you use the drop-down menu to set a search radius up to 250 miles and filter by state.

Note: Programs like this are for over-the-counter (OTC) things, not what are considered controlled substances, for which there are more strict regulations. For each site, take a look at lists of accepted and not acceptable items, or call to confirm the program.

Other Programs

Besides offering more background information on unwanted drugs, there’s also detailed instructions for holding a collection event and news on take-back legislation on this Illinois website. Chapter 2 in the navigation menu has links to drop-off sites, single-day collection events, and even a few mail-back programs from all over the U.S. There’s even some info for people in Australia, Canada, and Europe.

  • Search by zip code on Dispose My Meds and listings appear with phone numbers. Be sure to call ahead to confirm the drug takeback details.
  • CVS has announced that all 7,200 of its locations now offer the Sharps Compliance Corp.’s Environmental Return System, which provides customers with the ability to safely dispose of unused medication. Sharps Compliance, Inc. offers the same capability to search for a pharmacy that participates in the unused or expired medication disposal program, by entering a zip code or address.
  • Some pharmacies also recommend returning unwanted medications to your physician, so ask your physician if s/he will take unwanted medications for safe disposal.
  • While federal laws prohibit the redistribution of unused prescription medicines to individuals within the U.S., these medicines may be donated to designated not-for-profit organizations that then distribute them in other countries as humanitarian aid. One of the largest organizations involved in medication recycling is New York-based Aid for AIDS (AFA), a non-profit committed to improving the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries and of immigrants in the U.S.

Get Rewarded for Recycling

Some places will even reward you when you drop off medication for proper disposal. If you work at a pharmacy or want to suggest this to your local pharmacy, rewards could include coupons toward the purchase of over-the-counter products, or items like an eco-friendly tote bag as an incentive to dispose of medications properly.

Don’t forget to recycle prescription pill bottles too using our guide, which will also get you deals and rewards.

Now that you are aware of the importance of proper medication disposal, ask your local pharmacist if they know of any participating pharmacies or programs in your area. Anything you can keep out of the water system is beneficial!

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One Response to How to Get Rid of Old Medications

  1. I saw that my local Rite Aid Pharmacy had a sign up stating that they have a medication recycling program, but that it would actually cost me money in order to get rid of my prescription drugs and recycle through them. I felt this was counter productive, and do not understand how that would encourage a person to recycle. They already paid for these meds once, and now no longer use them or need them, and they have to pay to get rid of them too? I would be very interested in a free recycle location locally.

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