Parents have been dosing out lots of questions about what to do when they find that their children’s or even their own medicines have expired and wonder if they are still good to give. If a medication has expired, even an over the counter (OTC) medication, it means that medication most likely has lost its effectiveness and needs to be disposed of – but in a way that does not hurt the environment or your children.

So what do you do to get rid of an expired medication? Federal guidelines state that no prescription or OTC medication should be flushed down a toilet or washed down a sink unless the label says it is safe to do so.

Instead, talk with your local police and ask whether or not they have a prescription drug collection “take back program,” which is the safest way to dispose of unused medication. Another idea is to see if your community has a hazardous waste, trash or recycling program, of if your local pharmacy or hospital has been identified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as an authorized collector of expired drugs. If not, you can still dispose of your medications at home but you should do so in the following way:

  • Before discarding an expired or unused drug, it is important to mix it with coffee grounds, kitty litter, dirt or another undesirable substance and seal it in a plastic bag so others who demonstrate prescription drug abuse and look in trash bins for such drugs will be less interested in taking your drugs. Pets can also scavenge in the trash and discover these thrown-out drugs. In fact, discarded human medications are the leading cause of pet poisoning.
  • As to the empty bottle or plastic vial that held the drug, throw that out as well – or recycle it. But first cross out or mark over the label, especially the prescription number, so others cannot access that prescription if they find the vial.
  • Whatever you do, do not give expired or unexpired prescription medication designated for one family member to other family members or friends to use, since something that works for one person could be dangerous for someone else.
  • If you have questions about disposal of an unused or expired medication, your child’s health care professional or local pharmacist can help.

Hopefully tips like this will dispose of any concerns you have when it comes to knowing more about medication disposal.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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