What's the best way to get rid of drugs you don't use?

Karen Bastianelli, associate professor of pharmacy at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy in Duluth, MN, discusses the main disposal options for unwanted or outdated prescription drugs. The most effective is medication take-back events, she says.

Karen Bastianelli, associate professor of pharmacy at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy in Duluth, MN, discusses the main disposal options for unwanted or outdated prescription drugs. The most effective is medication take-back events, she says. DEA has held these events for 15 years, and this spring it collected almost 1 million pounds of drugs during its annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Another option is medication disposal boxes, which can be found at pharmacies or police departments. People can also pick up envelopes at a pharmacy, place the medications inside, and send them off for incineration. "Incineration is better than landfill for the environment, since it makes certain these toxic drugs are not getting into our wastewater," she says. Another option is tossing leftover drugs into the trash, though Bastianelli recommends making them unpalatable first by adding coffee grounds or kitty litter, pouring liquid in, and sealing it up with strong tape in an opaque container. A final option is flushing drugs down the toilet. While this does enter the water systems, a 2017 study in the journal Science of the Total Environment found that the eco-toxicological risk was minimal. "The only things we want people to flush are those very potent meds that could kill a person who has never used a narcotic before with one dose," Bastianelli says. FDA's "Flush List" includes 15 medications, primarily opioids and other controlled substances. "We don't want these getting into the hands of kids, especially, so just flush them immediately," she notes.