Mixing Medications: What Most of Us Get Wrong in the Disposal Process

Mixing Medications: What Most of Us Get Wrong in the Disposal Process

Whether your doctor changed your prescription or advised you to discontinue a specific drug, disposing of them properly is an important consideration. While it may seem easy to simply throw the drugs in the trash, this is not always proper protocol, and can result in accidental poisonings or disease transmission. Always be careful when looking to clear out the medicine cabinet and keep these tips in mind.

Drug Take-Back Programs
Some pharmacies will take back prescription and over-the-counter drugs, no questions asked. Others will not. Ask your pharmacist about proper disposal procedures. Even if they cannot take the drugs off your hands, they should be able to advise you about how to safely throw them away. Proper disposal is discussed in all online pharmacist degree training, and most professionals will happily share the information with you.

Mixing Drugs with Trash
Most medications can be thrown away in the trash if absolutely necessary. Leave the pills intact and mix them in with coffee grounds, potting soil, or used kitty litter. These substances will absorb the medication and destroy it gradually while also making it unattractive to wildlife, curious pets, and anyone who stumbles across them. Seal the mixture in a plastic bag or a container you’re throwing out anyway, then include it in the weekly trash pickup.

Medications Dispensed as Injections
Insulin for diabetics, some birth control methods, some allergy medicines, and some fertility medications are dispensed as injections that patients use at home. If you have pre-loaded syringes or used needles that you need to dispose of, contact your local pharmacy for assistance, or ask your doctor if you can bring them in for disposal. These items cannot be placed in the household trash, so always be sure you dispose of them properly, and that everyone in the house knows they can’t get rid of them through the regular trash.

Asthma inhalers can explode if they are incinerated, which could be very dangerous for the workers if your local household trash is usually burned. If your town burns household trash, dispose of inhalers at the pharmacy or through the doctor’s office. To avoid abuse by others, make sure to empty the inhaler into the air before throwing it away.

Flushable Drugs
Some very dangerous or controlled medications should be flushed down the toilet in order to be disposed of properly. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) asks that patches such as fentanyl be flushed to rule out poisonings by someone handling the trash, and being dosed by the used patches. Powerful painkillers such as dilaudid and morphine are also best disposed of by flushing them down the toilet since an accident with such drugs could prove fatal.

Knowing how to dispose of your medications properly is crucial to avoiding accidental poisonings or disease transmission. Once you know the rules concerning your specific medications you can more safely get rid of them. Most drug take-back programs will be able to take care of any you have questions on including injections and inhalers. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor and pharmacist what is recommended and follow the directions on the bottle. You can also throw away most by mixing in with other trash or by flushing. By following these guidelines, you can dispose of your medications safely and easily.

“Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.”


Please review our certifications for nurses as well as a our Nurse Patient Educator Program.  Nurse Patient Educators can play an important role in teaching patients how to discard outdated medications as well.