Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 20 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for more than 15 years. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.

When your prescription drugs are no longer needed, it’s important to dispose of them properly to avoid harming others.

One size doesn't fit all

I often find it odd and a bit scary to see that people are willing to graciously share their medications with others.

It is unlikely that two people with the same condition end up on the same medication at the same dose. This is because there are many variables to take into consideration when a doctor makes the decision to prescribe medication to you, including age, weight, other drugs you take, lifestyle, kidney function, and many other factors. If a medication worked for you, it won’t necessarily work that way for someone else.

You also can't just return it to your pharmacy for a refund because the law doesn't permit medication that leaves the pharmacy to be dispensed to a different patient. This is for the protection of the patient to avoid dispensing any medications that may have lost potency or been tampered with.

Disposing of medications properly

Some pharmacies have a take back program and will properly dispose of medications for you. If your pharmacy doesn't have such a program, you can ask your pharmacist to see if he or she knows of other medicine disposal programs in the area or contact your city or county government's household trash and recycling service to see if there is a medicine take-back program in your community.

If you dispose of your medicines, the Food and Drug Administration generally recommends two methods:

  1. Mix the medications with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds and place the mixture in a sealed container and then in a trash bag.
  2. Flush them down the toilet.

The disposal method you use will depend on the category of medication you are dealing with. The FDA website has more precise information on disposal and lists what type of drugs should be disposed by flushing.

As we know, patients with diabetes often have to dispose of needles and lancets on a regular basis. The FDA also has guidelines that can help you properly dispose of these treatment tools.