It’s time to take a fresh look at your medicine. Is it still safe and effective? Could it be interacting with those new vitamins or supplements you’re taking? Is it still the best value?
And if you don’t need it, how do you get rid of it?
Put Down that Bottle!
Let’s start with expired medicine. You know how it goes: You have a terrible headache and all you can find is a bottle of pain reliever that expired a year ago. You’re really tempted to ignore the date and just take it.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says you should never take expired medicines. Over time, the medicine can become less effective. In the case of antibiotics, that means they may not fully treat an infection, possibly leading to more serious illness.
Holding on to Old Medicine Puts Others at Risk
There are other risks to letting medicines pile up. It’s easier for small children or pets to ingest them. Or an adult can easily grab the wrong one to treat an ailment. The FDA also notes that many abused prescription drugs are stolen from family and friends.
Get Rid of Medicine Safely
So gather up all those boxes and bottles of medicine that you don’t need or are out of date and get rid of them.
It’s important to make sure you are disposing of them safely. That usually means doing more than just tossing them in the trash.
The FDA offers these tips:
- Check the label of your medications for any restrictions on disposal and follow those instructions exactly. This should always be your first step.
- Check for upcoming community drug “take back” days, when you can drop off medicine for safe disposal.
- You also can search online for disposal locations that operate year-round. Many Walgreens locations have disposal kiosks you can use at no cost. Look for a kiosk location near you with the Walgreens locator.
- If there are no disposal instructions on the drug label and no take back program is available, you can throw most drugs in the trash after taking a few precautions. First, remove them from their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, like used coffee grounds, dirt or kitty litter. Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
- Drug deactivation kits may be a good option for some drugs if you don’t have a convenient disposal site. The kits deactivate drugs so you can safely put them in the trash. The kits are easy to use — just follow package directions. You can buy the kits online or from a variety of locations, including Walgreens and other local pharmacies.
- There are some medications that are too harmful to put in the trash, such as narcotics. Your pharmacist should alert you to this and give you instructions for disposal. When in doubt, call the pharmacy or your doctor for instructions on safe disposal.
- When disposing of prescription bottles, be sure to remove and destroy the label or scratch out all identifying information.
- Never give your unused medicine to a friend or family member. It was prescribed for you, based on your symptoms and health history.
Do a Safety Check
After you get rid of medicine you know you don’t need, call or visit the pharmacy where you get your prescriptions filled.
Ask the pharmacist if the medications you take — prescription and over-the-counter — are safe to take together. Be sure to include any dietary supplements or vitamins you take, too.
Mixing medications can have very serious consequences. For example, mixing sleep medicine with some allergy drugs can make you too groggy to drive a car or operate machinery.
The FDA recommends asking these questions about every medicine you take:
- Can I take it with other drugs?
- Should I avoid certain foods, drinks or other products?
- What are possible drug interaction signs I should know about?
- Is there more information available about the drug or my condition (online or a brochure)?
Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Drug Interactions, What You Should Know, 2013; Don’t be Tempted to Use Expired Medicines, 2016; Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know, 2018