Safely Dispose of Unwanted Meds

Those bottles of expired prescription drugs sitting on the shelves of residential medicine cabinets were supposed to be disposed of at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2020 Spring Take Back Day on April 25. Coronavirus restrictions caused the DEA to postpone that event, but local medical professionals have alternative suggestions.

“With the semi-annual national drug takeback days on hold due to the current health emergency, concerned citizens who have unused or outdated prescription medications that they would like to dispose of, can take those medications to dropbox locations available throughout the region,” said Alex Johnson, director of operations, Addiction Medicine, UPMC Susquehanna.

It’s tempting to forget about the medications by just tossing them in the trash or toilet, but those are not good options because of the danger they present by leaching into our drinking water.

“We want to make clear to people, do not flush unused medications down the toilet. Do not pour them down the sink,” said Tejal Patel RPh, PharmD, MBA, manager of corporate compliance, Enterprise Pharmacy at Geisinger.

“There is concern that flushed medications can enter the water table, and most experts tend to ask that you avoid disposing of unwanted medications this way,” Johnson said. “There are a number of commercial products on the market like the Deterra Drug Deactivation System ( that can be utilized to dispose of medications safely.”

According to the Deterra website, the company has created pouches containing a patented, activated carbon that renders drugs ineffective simply by tossing them into a provided pouch and adding water.

Randall Strausser, RPh, director of Pharmacy Services at Evangelical Community Hospital, said that take-back days used to be the primary opportunity for disposing of unwanted medications, but concerned individuals can take advantage of other options.

“It is now common to have take-back boxes available at many pharmacies, police departments, and courthouses as year-round alternatives,” Strausser said. “If those options are not available now because of business closures related to COVID-19, people should keep their medications in a safe location in their home, that is out of sight and out of reach to visitors or other members of the household, and make sure they dispose of them as soon as the take-back locations are available to them again.”

Holding the medication is an option, Patel said, as long as people are cautious about it.

“If people take that as an option, they should ensure that the medicines are stored in a lockbox,” she said. “Take them out of the medicine cabinet because the medicine cabinets are a target for misuse and abuse of those medications. Especially if people are at home, they should know to be even more vigilant and keep their prescription medicines safely secured and out of reach of children and others in the household.”

Beyond locking medications out of the reach of young children and teens, take the time to talk to them about the dangers of ingesting medicine without proper oversight.

“It’s also encouraged during this crisis time to talk with family members,” Patel said. “Educate the family about the dangers of drug addiction. Currently, the rate of accidental exposure to medicine in the home is a major source of unintentional pediatric poisoning, so keeping medicines at home is also dangerous to the pediatric population.”

“We hear countless stories of children accidentally getting into medication as well as teenagers and adults who intentionally misuse medications with terrible outcomes, including health damage and death,” Johnson said.

He added that individuals should remove any personal identification and stickers from the medication bottles and use a marker to black out personal information.

“Most drop box locations do not accept liquid medications or sharp injection devices,” he said.

Johnson, Patel and Strausser all recommended local medication collection sites and provided links to finding them. Many are located in grocery stores and pharmacies. In Geisinger’s program alone, since it began in 2012 it has collected more than 28,000 pounds of unwanted or expired medications.

“I would believe a message to the public is, do not wait for National Medication Takeback Days,” Patel said. “Every day is a medication take-back day. Dispose of unwanted medications as soon as possible.”

Find a drug take-back kiosk near you

The DEA’s 2020 Spring Take Back Day on April 25 had to be postponed due to coronavirus restrictions, but unused, expired and unwanted medications can be safely disposed of at kiosks in various locations throughout the Susquehanna Valley. Try these links provided by local hospitals to find a take-back site near you. It’s a good idea to call the site to verify their availability during the quarantine.