So, what should you do with old medication?

1. Use a medicine take-back program. These are generally held at intervals and you can hold old medicine (in a safe place) and return it. Check for sites and dates in your local community using the DEA website. These are also sometimes called “drug amnesties.” The medicine will be disposed of properly and safely and no questions will be asked about how you got it.

3. Return to the pharmacy. Some, but not all pharmacies will take unused medication. Disposemymeds.org has a site locator. In some cases you can also mail medications to a collection site. (Do not, however, mail inhalers – they can be hazardous if punctured – inhalers should be disposed of at a trash and recycling facility). Walgreens has implemented a program of putting medicine disposal bins at their pharmacies. There are a few other sites which will take medicines regularly – usually police or fire stations – but these only exist in certain jurisdictions. There are locations which have no collection points in a reasonable distance.

4. Donate it. Although you can’t give your medicine to a friend, most states have a drug reuse program that allows for drugs to be donated for re-use. However, they can generally only be donated by pharmacists and medical professionals – which means you need to find a medical facility that takes donated drugs.

5. Trash it. Yes, you’ve been told not to put medicine in the trash in case children fish it out. If you dispose of it properly, though, this can be a safe last resort – remove the drug from their container and mix them with dirt, used coffee grounds or kitty litter, then put the container in a ziploc bag or similar and put in the regular trash. Dispose of the container separately – and consider blacking out the label with markers so nobody can go through your trash and see what you are taking.

Two things not to do:

1. Flush. You may have been told to flush medicine down the toilet. In fact, this method of disposal is recommended only for certain medications. Most medicines should not be flushed, as they can get into the ground water very easily and cause environmental problems. Some jurisdictions prevent the flushing of medications. Flushing should only be used as an absolute last resort for extremely dangerous medications if you have children or pets which might find them.

2. Give to a friend. It is illegal to give prescription medication to somebody else or to take medication prescribed for another person. Don’t give a friend your old painkillers or antibiotics to “save a trip to the doctor” or save money. It is also illegal for anyone who is not a pharmacist to sell medicine and it is illegal for some drugs to be possessed by somebody who doesn’t have a prescription and who isn’t caring for somebody with a prescription. This includes Vicodin and Xanax.

You should not simply hold on to medication, especially old painkillers, but should dispose of it properly as soon as it is no longer needed. And, of course, make sure to keep all drugs out of the reach of children and pets, and in their original container until it is time to take them or get rid of them.

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