American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Proper Disposal of Medications

Woman examining bottles in medicine cabinetWhile tidying up around the house, special attention should be paid to the medications you keep on hand, especially those that may be unused or expired. 

“Unused and expired pharmaceuticals pose a potential threat to an individual’s health, as well as to the environment,” states William Dotzman, DO, an osteopathic family physician from Dunedin, Florida. “It is important to dispose of these materials properly.” 

Focusing on preventive care, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how environmental and lifestyle factors impact your health.​

Disposal of Medications

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns against flushing medications down the drain or toilet. According to the EPA, pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) are unsafe to dispose of in domestic sewage systems because domestic septic systems do not necessarily destroy PPCPs. 

“Instead of flushing unwanted pharmaceuticals down the toilet,” says Dr. Dotzman, “it is better to seek out alternative methods for throwing away unused or expired medications." 

Safe and legal methods for the disposal of pharmaceuticals vary according to state and local law. Always familiarize yourself with the legislation in your community before taking action. Contact your town or city council for appropriate disposal guidelines. 

“Safely disposing of unwanted medications may involve contacting a pharmacy that will accept the materials,” explains Dr. Dotzman. “It may even involve rendering them unusable. For example, you might seal a container of pills with glue so that it cannot be reopened.”

Updating Your Medicine Cabinet

While sifting through your medicine cabinet it is important to know what ought to be kept, and what needs to be thrown away.

To safely update your medicine cabinet, Dr. Dotzman recommends removing:

  • Duplicate medications

  • Expired or leftover prescription medicines

  • Containers missing labels

  • Unused medications with broken seals or damaged containers

To keep your family safe from the potential harm of over-the-counter and prescription medications, Dr. Dotzman suggests:

  • Looking through your medicine supply at least once a year, ideally seasonally

  • Storing medications in cool, dry places or as instructed on the label

  • Keeping medications out of the reach of children

  • Never removing medicines from their original containers

“Playing it safe is the best way to protect yourself and your family from unnecessary risks,” stresses Dr. Dotzman. ​​​​​​


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