How to properly dispose of prescription drugs, which helps stop medicine abuse

How to properly dispose of prescription drugs, which helps stop medicine abuse

We all have prescription bottles with a few pills in them in our medicine cabinets. It’s pretty common to receive more medication than we need to take. We hang on to it. It’s not so bad to have on hand, right?

Actually, it can be bad. Prescription drug abuse is an issue. Every day, 2,500 teenagers use a prescription drug to get high for the first time. In 2014, an estimated 267,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 self-identified as nonmedical users of pain relievers. In addition to the huge risks that come with taking medication not prescribed for you, evidence links use of opioid pain killers to heroin usage, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Parents should not stock pile medicines in their homes. Don’t leave them in the home. Dispose of them,” urges Fran Harding, Director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.

So you need to get rid of your medicines, but I don’t think I’m alone in being unsure of just how to properly dispose of prescription drugs. I know that flushing prescriptions down the toilet or just tossing them in the trash isn’t a good idea (due to environmental concerns like those discussed in this NPR piece), but then how do you dispose of prescription drugs?

Turns out that it’s getting easier and easier to dispose of prescription drugs. I recently learned that my community has a prescription drop box at the police station and all the fire stations. It turns out that police stations in many cities, including Chicago, have ways for you to drop off prescription medication.

I rounded up expired prescriptions and those we weren’t using any more.

I confess that I was a little nervous pulling into the fire station. It’s not a place I usually go, I didn’t know what I was looking for, and frankly, it feels weird to walk around with a pocket full of pills.

Turns out, it was far easier than I thought. The box looked like a mailbox, was painted white, clearly labeled and easy instructions were posted above the box.

I didn’t have to talk to anyone, answer any questions, and it took a grand total of maybe 30 seconds. It’s great that something to keep our kids safe can be so easy and painless.

Even if your kid wouldn’t take a prescription drug not intended for them because they know better, you don’t know about their friends, or friends of friends, or party guests, or the myriad of other people in and our of your house.

So, how do you find a drop box?

* Look online for a drop box near you by zip code. Check on and

My community fire departments did not pop up on the list, although there were many options in nearby communities. If you don’t see your community listed, fear not, there are other options.

* Go to to see if your community pharmacies participate in a medication disposal program. Talking to your pharmacist may also give you some leads.

* Google. I know it seems obvious, but googling your town and “prescription drop off” can generate just the info you need that may be part of a smaller program that doesn’t appear on these sites.

* If none of these give you the information you need, the Dispose My Meds folks suggest calling your local law enforcement. Some counties, universities, and other community groups host drug take-back events that they may be able to share with you.

The FDA says here that “if no disposal instructions are given on the prescription drug labeling and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash following these steps:

  1. Remove them from their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds, dirt or kitty litter (this makes the drug less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through the trash seeking drugs).
  2. Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.”

Of course, if you received specific instructions from your health care providers, including pharmacist, follow those.

Disposing of your medicines with your kids in tow not only sets a good example, it is a great way to open a conversation about the importance of respecting medications, including not taking prescriptions intended for other people or giving prescription medications to others even if you have the best of intentions, and the dangers of medicine abuse.

For tips on how to handle that conversation, check out the Parental Toolkit from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, and be sure to emphasize that prescription and OTC medicines are, in fact, drugs.

Disposing of meds and talking about medicine abuse is really important, and possibly even life saving. Please share this information with friends and family members so that we can all play a small part in making sure our kids don’t take meds that could be dangerous to them.

Prior Post: Top 20 slang words and acronyms posted in the ASKfm app by teens

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