How to Safely Do Medication Disposal

Category: Drug Information, Medical FAQ


Posted on June 18, 2018

Vanessa is a health writer and blogging expert. Her specialities are medicine, health and wellness. She is proud to call Vancouver, BC her home where she enjoys the ocean and mountains with her dog Mr. ChowChow.

When we allow leftover and unused prescription medications to sit around in our bathroom cabinets and cupboards, we open the possibility for misuse and potential abuse to thrive. Aside from this potential abuse, adults and seniors who are critically dependent on their prescription meds often mistakenly take expired prescription drugs which are no longer as effective as they once were, leading to insufficient effect, and waning results.

Safely disposing of your prescription medications can help to reduce misuse and abuse situations.

Medication Disposal 101

Safe disposal of your leftover/expired/extra prescription drugs ultimately means the reduction of likelihood that they’ll fall into the wrong hands, or mistakenly be used by you, or your family members or friends.

Begin by inspecting the contents of your medicine cabinet and/or overnight prescription organizer for any and all expired or unused drugs. This includes all prescription drugs (such as Viagra or Xarelto), over-the-counter drugs, and even natural health products. Check their expiration dates as a first step, and if you’re unsure of their effectiveness or safety, consult your pharmacist.

Safe and responsible disposal of these drugs means they won’t end up being sold on the street, or used by individuals who could incur serious harm from ingesting them. By simply tossing them in the trash, you run the risk of allowing someone to potentially find them - and your personal information, as a result.

Poor Disposal Affects the Environment

Increased numbers of human and animal vaccinations and medications in Canada mean a plethora of unused and/or expired drugs are improperly disposed of by dumping, flushing, and littering them in the environment, where they can have profound negative effects on water and soil quality.

It’s paramount that people DO NOT flush their unused prescription meds down the sink or toilet. Concentration levels of prescription meds in the water and soil may be low in most places, but this presence can have compounding effects on populations of animals and humans.

Medication Disposal at the Pharmacy Drop-Off 

Bring all your expired and unused prescription drugs to a certified and licensed pharmacy and team of pharmacists to have them safely dispose of your drugs. In Canada, you’re welcome to bring these medications to a pharmacy 365 days per year,

Take-Back Programs

Regionally recognized Drop-Off Days are organized by local law enforcement agencies, local government groups and healthcare organizations to support and encourage  the public to safely and responsibly dispose of their unwanted/expired prescription medications.

These programs make it easy and convenient for people to dispose of their drugs, ensuring that they are not solicited or misused by others, and that they don’t wind up in a local landfill or a waterway that can contaminate the environment. Unfortunately, these programs only collect a small percentage of expired and unwanted pharmaceuticals, meaning that if your area doesn't have a well publicized take-back program, you’ll need to rely on your local pharmacy.

Garbage Disposal

If you’re unable to get your medications to a pharmacy, or drop them off during a locally sponsored prescription drug take-back program, you’ll need to responsibly dispose of them in the garbage rather than let them sit in your possession.

To do this, remove the medications from their bottles and original containers. Scratch out your personal information as well as and medication identifiers to protect your personal health info.

Hide your unwanted medications in an unappealing substance that you happen to be throwing out - like:

  • Kitty litter
  • Coffee grounds
  • Composted food waste
  • Dirty diapers

This not only masks the appearance of your unwanted medications, but also makes them significantly less appealing to animals and children, and unrecognizable to those who rifle through trash seeking the presence of poorly disposed-of prescription medications.

Leftover prescription medications that pile up in our medicine cabinets can be potentially harmful to those who may get their hands on them, meaning that safe and responsible disposal of these drugs is critically important. Doing your part to safely and responsibly dispose of them ensures both the environment, wild animals/pets, and other people are unable to use and misuse them.

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