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How to safely dispose of unused medicines

Most of us have a medicine cabinet or bathroom drawer at home stocked with a variety of prescription and over the counter medications. At some point, you end up with medicines that are no longer needed or are out of date. Unused or expired medicines in the home have long been a safety concern, leading to accidental poisoning, overdose and abuse. Poison control centers nationwide register millions of calls each year because children have accidentally ingested some type of medication. According to a 2023 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, opioids are the leading cause of poisoning fatalities among infants and young children.

So what’s the correct way to dispose of medications? How do you safely dispose of expired, unwanted or unused medicines?

Start with a drug take-back site

The best way to dispose of most types of unused or expired medicines — both over-the-counter and prescription — is to drop them off at a drug take-back site or during a drug take-back program. In southern Oregon, there are more than 20 drug take-back locations — including pharmacies, city halls and police stations. Some are in-person drop-offs, while others are mail-in locations.

In most cases, these drug disposal drop-off locations are permanent, locked boxes. Many are available 24 hours a day. And they’re completely confidential.

For a current list of drug take-back locations in our area — including addresses, phone numbers and hours of operation — visit the Oregon Safe Drug Disposal site. Enter your zip code for a complete list of drug take-back locations near you.

Find a drug take-back event in your area

Each year, the Medford Police Department sponsors two area-wide drug take-back events — one in the spring and one in the fall. Other organizations, including health care facilities, law enforcement agencies and community groups, sponsor similar events throughout the year. These programs provide an easy way to dispose of unused or expired medications. To see if any are coming up in your town, search “drug take back” with your city name and see what comes up.

Look to the FDA’s “flush list” for particularly dangerous medications

The best disposal option is a drop-off location. But let’s say you have some medications you want to safely dispose of but there’s no take-back location near you, and no drug take-back events on the calendar. Now what? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a list of specific medications that can be flushed down the toilet. The medications on this list are either sought after for their potential for misuse or abuse, or they can result in death from even one dose if inappropriately taken. So it is a very specific list.

For a list of medications on the approved flush list – including drugs that contain opioids and drugs that do not contain opioids, visit the FDA’s flush list. Please note: DO NOT flush any medicine unless it is on this limited list.

Using the trash when other options are not available

If take-back locations or drop-off events are not available to you, most medications — except for those on the FDA flush list — can be thrown into your household trash. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs in pill form, as well as liquids, drops, patches and cream.

But there’s a disclaimer. In order to prevent children or pets from getting into any medications in the trash, remove them from their original containers and mix them with something undesirable — like coffee grounds, cat litter or wet trash. Put that mixture in a Ziplock bag, empty can or other container — something that seals — and THEN put the container in the garbage.

Remember, though, the best option is to drop off your unused, unwanted and expired medicines at a local drop-off location.

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