What should you do with a medication that is no longer needed or has expired? Disposing of medications properly can prevent misuse of drugs. Problems may occur such as confusing another medication with the old one or a new prescribed dose of the same medication; perhaps a young child taking the medication accidentally, or even drug abuse. Improper disposal of medications can potentially harm the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is concerned about the presence of pharmacological compounds in surface, ground and drinking water in the United States. Go here for more information. 

So, how should you dispose of medications properly?

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), recommends calling your local law enforcement agency (police department or sheriff’s office), to ask how to dispose of medication in your community. Law enforcement agencies are the only institutions by law able to take-back controlled substances at this time. Many individuals do not know what medications are controlled; therefore law enforcement officers dispose of all medications or tell you what to do with them. In some locations, you may need to speak to the “drug task force” to get the correct information for disposal. DEA sponsors a “National Take-Back Initiative,” held twice a year (spring and fall). In April 2013, more than 5,800 locations in the United States collected approximately 742,000 pounds of prescription medications. According to the DEA, the purpose of this program is to: “provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse of medications.” For general questions for the DEA headquarters, call 202-307-1000.

If medication disposal is needed between “Take-Back Days,” communities may help in different ways. It may vary from a sheriff coming to your home for pick-up to traveling to the police department where drug disposal boxes may be available.
The DEA is working towards providing a better way to dispose of medications. Until this happens, call your local law enforcement agency for instructions.

It is also important to know how to dispose of used syringes and needles (sharps) in your state. In the past year, Massachusetts law has changed. Please keep yourself informed of the laws in your state. A state by state guide to sharps disposal can be found here.

Please be safe with medication and sharp disposal. Remember, laws change and you need to check periodically to make sure you are keeping current.