How to Properly Dispose of OTC Medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like cold and cough medicines are designed to make you feel better when you’re sick, but like prescription medication, they can also have negative implications on your health if they are used improperly.

The abuse of prescription drugs has become of heightened public interest in the United States, largely due to the opioid epidemic. However, OTC medicine abuse is also a problem that should prompt parents to do a regular medicine cabinet purge. With the risks of OTC medicine abuse, it’s important to make sure you’re aware of which medications you have in your home and how much is in each package/bottle. You should also regularly discard of any medications that have expired or are no longer in use. You may have heard about the dangers of flushing certain medications as these substances can get into the water supply and contaminate soil. And, if you have children, your concern may extend past the environmental issues. Some OTC medications, such as cough medicines containing the active ingredient dextromethorphan, have the potential to be abused, so you don’t want your old medications falling into the wrong hands.

How to Dispose of OTC Medications

If you discover that your teen is abusing OTC medications, your first instinct may be to flush any unused medication down the toilet or wash them down the drain, but medications can very easily contaminate our water supply.

The F.D.A., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American and the American Pharmacists Association all implore you to dispose of medications properly by taking a few measures to ensure it is safely disposed of in your trash[EC1] [KA2] :

  1. Examine the medicine. Sometimes, older liquid medicines can solidify. If this happens or the liquid seems thick at all, add some water and shake. If you have to, break up lumps with a fork or spoon.
  2. Put into a sealable bag. Food storage bags work well for this purpose. Regardless of what you may have heard, DO NOT CRUSH your pills. Crushing your OTC pills can release tiny particles into the air that you and your family will unwittingly inhale, which may lead to unwanted side effects.
  3. Add something undesirable. Combine the medicine with something completely unappetizing like cat litter, coffee grounds, or dirt and debris from your vacuum cleaner. Someone who is just experimenting with substances is not likely to dig through something disgusting to get to your pills. Also, the debris may help hide the pills from sight.
  4. Seal and toss. Once the bag is completely sealed, toss the bag into the trash can.

Take-Back Programs
Although most OTC medications can be safely tossed in the trash, this isn’t the most preferred route for disposing of prescription medications.

Periodically, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day during which consumers can take unused or expired prescription and OTC medications to dispose of safely at specified local collection areas. Your local police station may also sponsor their own take-back program. Check with them before you throw away any medications. If you don’t have a take-back program in your area, you may be able to transfer your unused medicines to DEA-registered collectors. You may find these collection sites in local pharmacies, hospitals or clinics.

If you’d like more information on how to safely dispose of your OTC and prescription medications, you can visit the DEA’s website where you can find out more about National Take-Back events or locate a DEA-authorized collector.

Properly disposing of your medications is just one way to keep our children and communities safe.

Trevor McDonald is a content writer for Coastal Detox. He is also a recovering addict and alcoholic who’s been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help share treatment resources and spread addiction awareness. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying any type of fitness activity imaginable.