Aging Well

How to dispose of Unused Medications

It's a good time to do a fall cleaning of your medicine cabinet. Here's what to do with old, unneeded or expired medicines.

Posted Updated
It's a good time to clean out your medicine cabinet
Liisa Ogburn

According to the Centers for Disease Control, older adults (those over 65) show up at the Emergency Room over 450,000 times/year due to adverse effects of medication. This is more than twice as often as younger people.

While many pharmacies are beginning to offer seniors prepackaged medication blister packs or rolls to prevent unnecessary mishaps, another tact seniors (or their adult children) can take to prevent unnecessary hospital visits is to clean out their medicine cabinet of old, expired medications, especially controlled substances.

How does one safely get rid of medications?

  1. Many pharmacies, including large chains like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, hospitals and other public offices, have controlled substance disposal programs. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) provides a search tool that enables you to find the closest places to safely dispose of outdated medications here.
  2. If there is not a disposal program nearby, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) provides guidelines on disposing these specific controlled substances, which pose the greatest risk, by flushing them immediately down the toilet here.
  3. For those medications not on the list in #2, the FDA recommends you:
- Remove the drugs from their original containers and mix them with something undesirable, such as used coffee grounds, dirt, or cat litter.
- Put the mixture in something you can close (a re-sealable zipper storage bag, empty can, or other container) to prevent the drug from leaking or spilling out.
- Throw the container in the garbage.
- Scratch out all your personal information on the empty medicine packaging to protect your identity and privacy. Throw the packaging away.
  • For inhaler products used for asthma, COPD and other conditions, check the packaging for specific instructions.
  • For more information on what to do when you no longer need certain medications, go to the FDA website.


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