The Importance of Properly Disposing of Prescription Drugs


Kristopher Young, PharmD

How often do you clean out your medicine cabinet?

For many families, it’s a chore that’s not high on the priority list. Medications don’t grow moldy or develop a smell if they’ve expired. But safely discarding unnecessary or expired medications not only keeps your bathroom tidy, it can help keep your family safe.

According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 15 million Americans used prescription drugs non-medically in one year. Many of these people find their drug of choice in residential homes. Teenagers that abuse prescription medication most often find it in the family medicine cabinet—or that of a friend or relative.

Here are some tips on how to safely discard prescription medications:

  • Don’t flush: Dumping pills or liquid medications down the drain is not ideal. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the environmental effects are minimal, it’s better to bring medications to a drug take-back facility for safe discarding. Just be sure to remove personal information from the prescription bottles before dropping them off.
  • Focus on discarding commonly abused drugs: The three most commonly misused drugs are opioid pain relievers, psychiatric drugs, and over-the-counter medications like cough syrup or cold medications that have mild-altering effects when taken at higher-than-recommended doses. If you are not using these prescriptions, discard them. If you are using them, consider keeping them in an inconspicuous place to make them harder to find.
  • Talk to your doctor about your prescriptions: You don’t have to throw away pills you never receive. At South Shore Health, we have a task force dedicated to ensuring clinicians don’t prescribe more opioids than are absolutely necessary for each procedure or condition. Talk about your needs with your doctor to ensure your symptoms are managed appropriately.

So take the time clean out your medicine cabinet. It may save the life of someone you love.

Saturday, October 27 is National Drug Take-Back Day. South Shore Medical Center has partnered with the Norwell Police Department for a National Drug Take-Back Day event on Saturday from 10 AM-2 PM.

Members of the community can also always drop unwanted drugs at the medication drop box located at the South Entrance of South Shore Hospital. Click here for more details on South Shore Hospital’s drop box.