Cleaning Out Your Medicine Cabinet the Right Way

Senior man looking at prescription drugs in a medicine cabinet

The third Friday in April is National Clean Out Your Medicine Cabinet Day. Whether you’re observing the day or just want to clean yours out, there’s a right way and a wrong way to clean out your medicine cabinet.

The Wrong Way

Throwing everything in the trash or flushing it down the toilet is the wrong way to clean out your medicine cabinet.

There are so many negative consequences of throwing old medicine away improperly.

  • Water and soil contamination
  • Harm to fish and wildlife that come in contact with it
  • Potential for drug abuse

While it’s true that you can flush certain medicines down a toilet and throw some medicines in the trash, there’s a right way to do it.

The Right Way to Throw or Flush Medicines

First, you should only flush medications that specifically say, “Flush this down the toilet.” The FDA has a list of flushable medicines, but the containers these medicines come in will also explicitly say that it’s safe to flush.

If the container doesn’t say you can flush it, don’t flush it.

Likewise, there’s a right way to throw medicines in the trash. The FDA recommends a four-step process for tossing most medicines.

  1. Take the medicine out of the container and put it in a resealable bag.
  2. Add something gross—like old coffee grounds, cat litter, or food waste—to the bag to hide the medicine and make it unattractive to pets or kids.
  3. Seal the bag and throw it out.
  4. Remove all identifying information of the original container and throw that out too.

Take It to an Authorized Collector

A better way to dispose of old medicines is to take them to an authorized collector. There are usually a couple options for you here.

Some hospitals, pharmacies, and businesses will also take old drugs back and dispose of them properly for you.

Don’t Forget About Pet Medications

Double-check on any old pet medications you may have around the house as well. You can usually bring these medicines to the drug drop-off locations mentioned above.

Some, but not all, veterinarians will take drugs back—ask your vet if they offer these services. If they don’t, they can point you in the right direction.

A Special Note About Fentanyl Patches

With the United States in the middle of an opioid crisis led primarily by the misuse of fentanyl, it’s super, super important that you treat the disposal of fentanyl patches with extra care.

Because they look like stickers, these patches can be enticing to kids. And even used patches still contain enough fentanyl to kill or seriously injure a child (or pet) who touches it.

According to the FDA, used fentanyl patches should be folded, sticky sides together, and immediately flushed down a toilet. This is one of the medicines where it’s less harmful to flush it than to run the risk of someone accidentally touching it.

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