Whether they’re chemotherapy drugs (such as vismodegib), high-potency pain relievers (considered controlled substances), or drugs that target specific defects on cancer cells (vemurafenib), it’s important to know how to properly dispose of these medicines.
“The dangers of having unused or expired medications lying around the house are well-documented,” says Lori Bertrand, retail pharmacy manager at MD Anderson. “Every day, parents head to the emergency room or contact poison control centers because their children have accidentally ingested medications intended for someone else.”
Here’s what you should know about disposing of your unused or expired medications.
How to find an authorized collection location
The first step in disposing of unused prescriptions is to identify an authorized collection location in your area. You can find one using this search tool on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) website or by searching for “authorized takeback locations” online.
MD Anderson is now an authorized collection location, so medications can be placed in one of two green disposal bins on campus. These bins are located outside the pharmacies in the Main Building (Floor 2, near Elevator C) and in the Mays Clinic (Floor 2, near The Tree Sculpture).
The DEA also sponsors a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day event twice a year, usually on Saturdays in April and October. During these events, you can drop off your unused and expired medications at police stations, fire stations and other local civic centers designated as official collection sites.
Any type of unused or expired medication — including over-the-counter drugs such as cough syrup or antihistamines, and even veterinary medicines — can be dropped off on these days for proper disposal by law-enforcement personnel.
“But if you are on a clinical trial, do not use these bins,” notes Bertrand. “It is very important that you return all medications to your research nurse or clinical study coordinator.”
How to dispose of medicines at home
In cases where no authorized collection location is nearby, or a “take-back day” is still months away, you can safely dispose of some unused and expired medications at home.
Most medications can be sealed in a container with something unpalatable — such as used cat litter, sawdust or old coffee grounds — and discarded in the regular household trash.
But some prescriptions, such as high-dose pain relievers, should be flushed down the toilet to prevent drug abuse or accidental ingestion by children. Disposing of other types of medicines (such as birth control pills, antibiotics, or mood-altering chemicals) by flushing them is not advised, as traces of pharmaceuticals have been found in both water supplies and wildlife.
Prescriptions should also never be given to anyone else.
“It is not only illegal to give someone a drug that wasn’t prescribed for them, it is also unsafe,” says Bertrand. "Chemotherapy and pain medications taken by many MD Anderson patients are particularly dangerous. Great care must be taken to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.”