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  • Writer's pictureShawndra Holmberg, CPO-CD

Expired Medication — Keep or Toss

Keep or Toss Expired Medication - photo of medicine cabinet and Rx pill bottles

Should you keep or toss your expired medication? If you toss it, do you know how to dispose of it properly? Here’s the information you need to help with your decision.

Keep or Toss Expired Medication

Expiration dates may not necessarily mean that you need to toss it. Here are a few rules of thumb:

  • If your life depends on it — toss expired medication.

  • If it has changed color, consistency or odor — toss it regardless of expiration.

  • Don’t take the aspirin if it smells like vinegar. It’s one medication that should be tossed when expired, or sooner if it smells like vinegar.

  • Store medication in a cool, dry environment (your bathroom medicine cabinet is rarely a good place).

Check out this article from the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide to see more information about expiration dates.

Check out National Take-Back Day to find a collection site near you.

Disposing of Your Medicine Properly

  • Check for a local medication disposal program, police department drop-box, pharmacy, or local medication take-back event. You can do a web search for drug take-back locations in your city. Contact the specific drop off location to confirm they can take your medicine. Most will not accept liquids or sharps. Many will take OTC (over-the-counter) medicine.

  • Call your pharmacist for more information and see if they participate in a drug take-back program throughout the year. It’s better to dispose of your prescription drugs throughout the year then to have them sitting in your medicine cabinet or drawer.

  • Remove labels on the empty prescription bottles to protect your identity and information; the bottles can then be thrown away. Note: Though these bottles might come in handy someday, how many do you really need? Maybe just 2 or 3, not every single one, so don’t save these for a someday maybe reason.

  • For OTC (over-the-counter) medications and prescription drugs that aren’t collected: most can be thrown in the household trash, but make sure that it is less appealing to children & pets. Place the medication to be thrown away in a leak-proof container such as a sealable bag or empty laundry detergent bottle. Add coffee grounds or used kitty litter, seal, and toss.

  • Do NOT flush your expired or unused medication down the toilet unless specifically instructed to do so by the drug label or patient information provided. Only a small number of drugs carry instructions for flushing. Flushing medication can cause water pollution, have adverse effects on septic systems and may not fully be treated in sewage treatment plants.

For more information, go to the FDA’s (U.S. Food and Drug Administration):

For more on Best-By Dates, check out Best By Dates — Is It Expired or Not?


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