Safely Disposing of Prescription Medicines: A Vital Responsibility for Physicians

By: Melanie Mayer, ACMS Marketing & Administrative Assistant

As physicians, you are entrusted with the well-being of your patients, not only during their treatment but also in ensuring their safety after their medication has run its course. One important aspect of this responsibility is the proper disposal of expired, unwanted, or unused prescription medicines. This blog post will explore the importance of safe medication disposal and provide guidance on the various methods available.

Twice a year, a significant event takes place in October and April that can greatly assist healthcare professionals and patients. It’s called National Prescription Drug Take Back Day and serves as an educational campaign and a practical solution to medication disposal. During this event, people are taught how to dispose of medicines correctly, and secure locations are set up where individuals can drop off their medications safely. This initiative promotes responsible medication management and safeguards against potential misuse and environmental harm. This year this event is slated for October 28, 2023.

The simplest and most effective method for disposing of most medicines is to utilize a drug take back location. These locations are often conveniently situated at local pharmacies or police stations. Please share this information with your patients (you can even share this blog post). Encourage your patients to drop off their expired or unused prescription medications at these sites, and by doing so, they can ensure that they are handled and disposed of in an environmentally friendly and secure manner.

If your patients are unable to access a Drug Take Back Day location, there are still responsible alternatives for disposing of prescription medicines. Medications on the FDA’s flush list should never be left in someone’s home unattended, as they pose significant risks if ingested, touched, misused, or abused by children, adults, or pets. In such cases, it is imperative to flush these medications down the toilet to prevent potential harm.

For medicines that are not on the flush list, the following steps can be taken:

  1. Mix the medicines (liquid or pills) with an unappealing substance like dirt, cat litter, or coffee grounds.
  2. Place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag or container.
  3. Dispose of the container in your household trash.

Additionally, it is crucial to protect patient privacy by removing personal information from empty medicine bottles and packaging labels before discarding them in the trash or recycling.

Properly disposing of prescription medicines is a shared responsibility between healthcare professionals and patients. By participating in the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day and utilizing drug take back locations, we can collectively reduce the risk of medication misuse, environmental pollution, and potential harm to individuals and pets. When these options are unavailable, following safe disposal methods like those outlined here ensures we fulfill our duty to protect our patients and the environment. To learn more about the safe disposal of medicines, consult your local resources or visit the FDA’s website for comprehensive guidance. We can positively impact our communities and the world by promoting responsible medication disposal practices.

And if you patients miss Drug Take Back Day, there are always places available to take back unused medications:

DEA National Take Back Initiative: The official website of the DEA provides a comprehensive guide to information, collection sites, FAQs and other resources.

Dispose my meds: Another trustworthy website dedicated to promoting proper medication disposal and includes a locator.

How to Dispose of Medicines Properly: Guidelines from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Year round collection sites: If you miss October 28th, more options exist to dispose of medications responsibly.