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Out with the Old: Safely Disposing of Outdated Medications and Vitamins

Posted January 21, 2023 by Mike Lewis under Tips

Out with the Old: Safely Disposing of Outdated Medications and Vitamins

Why it’s important to dispose of expired medicines

Taking outdated medications or supplements can be risky. As drugs and vitamins age, they can undergo chemical changes that make them less effective or even harmful. I need to safely dispose of anything that is past its expiration date to protect my health. Here’s what I should know about properly getting rid of old medicines and vitamins.

How to identify expired drugs and supplements

To determine if a medication or vitamin is expired, I should start by looking at the expiration date printed on the packaging. I may also notice changes to the pills themselves – expired drugs may change color, texture, or smell. If I have a prescription medication bottle with no printed expiration date, I can check the manufacturer or pharmacy website using the drug name and lot number. Bottom line: if I’m uncertain about a medicine’s shelf life, it’s best to dispose of it.

Dangers of keeping and taking expired medicines

Taking expired medications can potentially cause the following issues:

  • Reduced effectiveness – Chemical changes over time may make the drug less potent or render it ineffective. An outdated antibiotic, for example, might fail to treat an infection.

  • Unexpected side effects – Degraded chemicals and compounds in expired medicines could cause adverse reactions that I wouldn’t normally experience from the active medication.

  • Toxicity – Some drugs like tetracycline antibiotics can become toxic over time. Ingesting them past their expiration raises my risk of side effects like kidney problems.

  • Resistance – Taking an expired antibiotic adds to antibiotic resistance. The weakened medication likely won’t fully kill off bacteria, allowing the strongest germs to multiply.

Clearly, it’s not worth the risks to take a medicine that may be expired. I need to safely throw it away.

How to properly dispose of expired or unwanted medications

I have a few options for properly disposing of old prescription and over-the-counter medicines:

  • Take-back programs – Many pharmacies, police stations, healthcare facilities, and community drop-off locations host take-back programs where I can bring unused medications for safe disposal. This is often the easiest and most accessible option.

  • Household trash – If a take-back program is not available, I can dispose of most expired medicines in my household trash by following these steps:

  • Take pills out of their original containers and mix them with an unappealing substance like cat litter or coffee grounds. This helps prevent misuse by others.

  • Place the mixture in a sealed bag, container, or wrap.

  • Throw the sealed container in my household trash. Make sure to scratch out any personal information on the empty medicine packaging before recycling or throwing it away separately.

  • Flushing certain medicines – The FDA recommends flushing down the toilet medicines that can be especially harmful if taken accidentally by someone else. These include powerful opioids like oxycodone, fentanyl, and morphine.

Safe disposal of expired vitamins and supplements

For expired vitamins and mineral supplements like vitamin C, magnesium, etc., I can follow the household trash disposal method above.

However, some supplements may cause harm if accidently ingested by pets or children. For example, iron supplements can be toxic when consumed in large quantities. In these cases, I should consult my pharmacist about whether flushing or mixing with unappealing substances is advised.

The FDA also recommends immediately flushing any out-of-date recalled supplements that have the potential for bacterial contamination. Otherwise, I can return them to the point of purchase for safe disposal.

Avoid stockpiling medicines and vitamins

To reduce my need to dispose of expired medicines and supplements in the future, I should try to only purchase amounts I expect to use before expiration. It’s also wise to:

  • Set a reminder to check my medicine cabinet and throw out anything that’s expired
  • Inventory my medications once yearly and properly dispose of anything I no longer need
  • Discuss my health conditions with my doctor annually to stop using unnecessary medicines
  • Ask my pharmacist if any of my medications can be safely disposed of once opened, even if not expired

Proper storage can also help extend shelf life – be sure to avoid heat, humidity, and direct light when storing medicines and vitamins.

By routinely cleaning out my medicine cabinet and safely disposing of anything outdated, I can protect my health from the dangers of degraded medications. Utilizing take-back programs or following FDA guidelines on household disposal and flushing makes it simple to keep my family safe.

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