Decluttering: It’s a Good Time to Dispose of Outdated Prescriptions

Since our work as professional organizers often involves helping people declutter their bathrooms, it is common for us to find medications that are past their expiration date. In the past, we would have likely thrown them in the garbage or dumped them down the drain, but these days, the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration) would prefer that we handle them more carefully, especially when it comes to controlled or addictive substances.

I was overdue to do this in my own household, so I recently went through the exercise of doing it. It took me about 30 minutes to read through labels, look at expiration dates, dump the pills into a baggie and recycle the containers. We are fortunate to have a kiosk at our local police station which accepts expired medications. In all, I got rid of 21 prescriptions!

Here is some info and guidelines on how to dispose of your medications from the FDA website:

“In your community, authorized collection sites may be retail pharmacies, hospital or clinic pharmacies, and law enforcement locations. Some pharmacies may also offer mail-back envelopes to assist consumers in safely disposing of their unused medicines through the U.S. Mail.”

The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) periodically hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events where collection sites are set up in communities nationwide for safe disposal of prescription drugs. Almost all medicines can be safely disposed of by using medicine take-back programs or using U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)-authorized collectors. DEA-authorized collectors safely and securely collect and dispose of pharmaceutical controlled substances and other prescription drugs.

Local law enforcement agencies may also sponsor medicine take-back programs in your community. Contact your city or county government for more information on local drug take-back programs.

When these options are not available, consumers may also dispose of unneeded medicine in their household trash.

  • First, mix the medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds.
  • Then place the mixture in a container such as a zip-top or sealable plastic bag, and throw the container away in your household trash.
  • Before throwing out your empty pill bottle or other empty medicine packaging remember to scratch out all personal information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.

There are, however, a few prescription medicines that contain controlled substances and are especially harmful if taken accidentally by someone other than the patient. These medicines should not be thrown in the trash, because this method may still provide an opportunity for a child or pet to accidentally take the medicine.

If a DEA-authorized collector or drug take-back program is not available, FDA recommends that these medicines be disposed of by flushing when they are no longer needed. The list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing can be viewed at this link.” As they suggest, be sure to scrape off container labels as these have personal information on them.

As an organizer, we do try to make disposal and donation as easy as possible but these guidelines are important to protect ourselves and others from possible exposure to improperly disposed of medications. So, thank you for taking the extra time to do this!








Image used under Creative Commons CC0 license.


About Melissa Belliard

Melissa is committed to helping her clients find the organizing system that works for them, with compassion and creativity. She has been helping her friends and family get organized for years, and loves decluttering closets and cabinets, especially for empty nesters and folks who are downsizing. Melissa brings her 16 years of experience as a Human Resources professional to her work, including compassionate listening, leadership, and creative problem-solving skills. Melissa is also a part-time massage therapist, and has raised two great kids. She loves being out in nature, listening to music and dancing, as well as bringing women together in community.

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