More than 212,000 adults and half a million children were accidentally poisoned by prescription and over-the-counter medication during 2015. Having a medicine cabinet packed with unsecured pills on every shelf is a big risk: It makes it too easy for you to grab the wrong meds or for anyone in your household (dog included) to accidentally ingest them.
Alarmingly, 31 percent of people in a nationally representative survey conducted by Consumer Reports said it had been more than a year since they had cleaned out their medicine cabinet.
Keep yourself and your family safer by being vigilant. Purge old pills regularly. Lock up drugs that can lead to overdoses or illness. And keep the planet safer by disposing of medications properly. Consumer Reports offers this guide.
Dangerous Prescription Drugs
These include pain meds, stimulants, sleep drugs, muscle relaxers and other dangerous drugs.
Disposal option No. 1: Return to a pharmacy in person.
Disposal option No. 2: Mail back.
Disposal option No. 3: As a last resort, the Food and Drug Administration suggests that you flush certain dangerous drugs, like opioids. But trace amounts can end up in drinking water and also possibly harm aquatic life.
Everyday Prescription and Over-The-Counter Drugs
Disposal option No. 1: Return to a pharmacy in person. New at Walgreens (in most states) are take-back kiosks available every day, free of charge. Discarded meds are incinerated, not put into landfills. Search for other collection sites at disposemymeds.org or deadiversion.usdoj.gov. Or call the Drug Enforcement Administration at 800-882-9539. You can also wait for National Rx Take-Back Day (April 29 and Oct. 28), when communities set up many designated collection sites.
Disposal option No. 2: Mail back. Costco, CVS and Rite Aid sell disposal envelopes for a few bucks to mail pills, capsules and patches (but not needles or inhalers) to disposal facilities, where they’re likely to be incinerated.
Disposal option No. 3: Put in the trash. Consumer Reports recommends first concealing pills by mixing them in a bag with an unappealing substance, like used coffee grounds or Kitty Litter, then toss. But drugs can contaminate landfill soil and water.
Disposal for syringes: Syringes pose a risk of accidental needle sticks, cuts and punctures, plus a risk of infection from use by other people. Go to safeneedledisposal.org or call 800-643-1643 to find drop-off locations near you.
Disposal for inhalers: Don’t put these in the trash, Consumer Reports advises, because the remaining contents may be combustible. Contact your local trash and recycling facility for proper disposal instructions.