How to dispose of prescription drugs
Pharmacists Mardoqueo Martinez and Tara Storjohann talk disposing prescription drugs.
QUESTION: I’m writing you because I currently work as a pharmacist in Anthem and we’ve had quite a few patients recently come in and ask about how they can properly dispose of prescription medications. I know you have a section in the magazine that you contribute to and this could be something to add if you think it would be valuable.
ANSWER: Great question, and we definitely think this is a very important issue. Additionally, I sincerely appreciate your efforts to advocate for the proper disposal of prescription medications. As I’m sure you’re aware, medications are the leading cause of child poisonings in the U.S. with about 60,000 children per year rushed to the emergency room after getting into medications. Many think that this may be due to lack of appropriate storage, but in a study that looked at cases of accidental child exposure to grandparents’ medicine, 45 percent of cases involved medicines stored in child-resistant containers. Not only is improper prescription disposal harmful to humans, it is also harmful to the environment. You may have recently heard the story about the popular diabetic medication Metformin contaminating Lake Michigan and possibly disrupting the hormonal systems of fish. Medications that are no longer used, or are improperly disposed of, can lead to disasters that can contribute to the above headlines.
Is your medicine cabinet full of expired drugs or medications you no longer use? How should you get rid of those drugs properly? Typically the best option is to use a “take-back” program hosted by the local police department. To find more information when “take-back” programs occur, you can visit the Drug Enforcement Agencies website at dea.gov. National Prescription Take-Back Day events occur fairly often and are run by authorized collectors, typically in conjunction with a pharmacy, pharmacy school, and the local police department.
Do you need to wait for a “take-back” event to properly dispose of prescription medications?
You certainly don’t need to wait for these events, but they are great for ease of access and help to increase awareness of proper drug disposal. Phoenix has many DEA-approved collectors in the area. The best resource to find out current information is to utilize the DEA call center at 1-800-882-9539. They will direct you to a collector in the community. We spoke with one of the Arizona prescription and over-the-counter drug disposal locations, their contact information is listed below. They stressed to us to call before going to the drop-off center to ensure that there is someone there that is eligible to destroy the drugs. They accept prescription and over-the-counter drugs, but do not accept liquids or needles. You can find an extensive list of take-back sites at acpa.net.
6255 West Union Hills Road Glendale, Arizona 85308
Open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Are there any medications I need to dispose of immediately?
Yes, many medications can be especially harmful, and in some cases fatal, with just one dose if they are used by someone other than the person for whom the medicine was prescribed. These dangerous medications must be flushed immediately down the sink or the toilet after use, after expiration, or when they are no longer needed. The list of drugs that need to be flushed immediately is continuously updated and can be accessed on fda.gov or is available on the leaflets that come along with your medicine. Fentanyl patches, for example, are on the immediate-flush list. With this drug you should fold the sticky parts of the patch together and then flush down the sink or toilet. Other medicines that have the immediate-flush requirement are listed in the table below. This is not an extensive list of medications that require immediate flushing, so please check with the above resource or your local pharmacy to ensure proper disposal.
|Medicines Recommended for Disposal by Flushing*|
|Buprenorphine by itself or in combination with other medications||Methylphenidate transdermal patch|
|Meperidine||Diazepam rectal gel|
|Hydrocodone by itself or in combination||Tapentadol|
|Oxymorphone||Oxycodone by itself or in combination|
*Medications are listed by active ingredient
Are there any other options for drug disposal?
If a take-back is not available to you, most other unused or expired medicines can be disposed of in your household trash. This is typically a last option because the medication still has some potential for harm to humans, pets, and the environment. If the medication is not on the immediate-flushing list, it can be disposed of in the household trash by following these steps.
- Mix the medicine with dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds (do not crush tablets or capsules)
- Place mixture in a container such as a zip-lock
- Thrown container away in household trash
- Scratch out all personal information on the prescription bottle
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