Categories: Preventive Care

What to do about unused, expired, or lost medication

Your recovery after surgery went better than expected, so you have leftover prescription pain medication. Your bottle of anti-allergy eye drops is a year past its due date. You’re on the plane when you suddenly realize you forgot your blood pressure medication. Scenarios like these happen every day. But you may not know what to about unused, expired or lost medications.

How to safely dispose of unused and expired medications

Disposing of medications is not as simple as throwing them in the trash or flushing them for several reasons:

  • Especially in the case of pain medications and other controlled substances, people can remove your medications from the trash and misuse them. If you have children or even pets in the house, they can accidentally ingest medications you throw in the trash, which can be life-threatening. Accidental exposure to medications is a major source of accidental poisonings according to the U.S Food & Drug Administration (FDA), especially for children under the age of 1.
  • Although the FDA and other organizations recommend mixing medications with undesirable trash such as kitty litter or coffee grounds and then throwing them in the trash, others raise concerns that this doesn’t adequately discourage people who are addicted to medications such as opioids.
  • Some studies have found that medications that are dumped in landfills or flushed down the toilet or sink can contaminate rivers, streams, lakes, and the ocean, affecting drinking water sources and the animals that live in these bodies of water.
  • Crushing pills to make them unusable can expose you to those drugs through skin contact or by breathing in the dust, putting you at risk of an overdose.

The best way to dispose of expired and unused medications is to find a take-back collection site. Before taking your medications to a take-back site, scratch out all the personal information on the prescription bottle so no one can use the information for identity or medical fraud. A growing number of pharmacies, including national chains CVS and Walgreens, and local hospitals offer this service.

Some require you to put your medications in a special activated charcoal bag, so call the site first to find out if you need a bag and how to get one. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have created an online tool that helps you find sites near you. The DOJ and DEA also sponsor prescription drug take-back days twice a year at pharmacies and law enforcement offices.

What to do if you lose or leave your medication behind

To lower the risk of losing your medications when you travel, place them in your carryon bag. Before you travel, make a list of all the medications you take regularly and get a copy of your prescriptions to bring with you. You may also want to get a letter from your doctor that outlines what medications you take, the dosages, and what condition they were prescribed to treat.

If you do lose or forget your medications in the U.S. you can ask your doctor to fax, call in, or electronically send a refill to a pharmacy at your destination. The process can be more complex if you’re travelling overseas. You may need to be seen by a local doctor who can prescribe the medication for you.

To lower the risk of an error, since there may be a language barrier or the medication may have a different name overseas, your doctor or a health advisor should provide the local doctor with your medical record and prescription history.



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