A Guide to Safely Disposing of Your Medications
Last updated: November 2021
Although spring cleaning may not be on your mind at the moment, it is always a good time to dispose of unused and old medications. Disposing of medications can be a confusing and perhaps overwhelming experience if you have COPD. This is because many of your medications may have special disposal requirements, such as inhalers.
Why dispose of your medications appropriately?
There are many reasons as to why it is advised to dispose of your medications in a safe and appropriate manner. These include:
- Ensures safety for your household, so that kids and/or pets don’t get into old medications
- Keeps your home clutter-free and your medicine cabinet organized and tidy
- Reduces confusion of which medications are still current
- Ensures that drugs are disposed in a manner that is safe for our environment
Steps to dispose of your medications
Contact your local pharmacy
Call your local pharmacy to inquire whether they accept medication returns. While most pharmacies do accept them, not all are registered to accept returns.
Gather your medications
Most medications can be returned to the pharmacy for disposal:
- Over-the-counter medications, such as herbals and vitamins
- Medications for injection
- Prescription drugs
- Narcotic drugs
Some of these have special considerations:
- Injections/needles: anything that comes with a needle, even if not used, should be first placed in a biohazard sharps container. Most often, you can get one of these containers at no charge from your pharmacy. Most pharmacies will not accept needle returns unless they are placed in one of these bins.
- Inhalers: metered-dose inhalers, dry powder inhalers, nebules, and nasal inhalers can all be returned to the pharmacy. It is very important that the canisters of the metered dose inhalers are returned, as they contain propellants that can emit gases that harm the environment.
- Narcotics: narcotics should always be returned to the pharmacy so that they can be destroyed appropriately to minimize the potential of theft and diversion.
Remove the label from your medications
To the best of your ability, peel off any pharmacy stickers with your name on them. Pharmacies typically don’t accept returns with prescription labels still affixed due to confidentiality. If the sticker is hard to remove, simply scratch off or blackout your name with a marker.
Place all of your medications in a plastic bag
Gather all your medications and place them in a plastic bag. Do not place any medications boxes or pill containers in the bag. Empty the vials out so that the plastic bag only holds pills. Liquids can remain in their original bottle, in addition to drugs that come in blisters/foil.
Your pharmacy cannot reuse returned medications
A common misconception is that your pharmacy can reuse returned medication that has not been used. While it seems like a waste, legally, drugs cannot be reused once they leave the pharmacy. This is to ensure the integrity of the drugs being dispensed.
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