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Spring Cleaning: Don't Forget the Medicine Cabinet!

When you make your spring-cleaning to-do list, don't forget the medicine cabinet. That means properly disposing of unused or expired medicine.

Why proper disposal?

Medications can harm someone it is not prescribed for, including children and animals. And disposing of old medications reduces the risk of unintentional use, overdose, and illegal abuse. Plus, a wide range of prescription drugs has been detected in lakes, streams, rivers, and drinking water supplies due to flushing them down the toilet.

How do I throw away medicine?

The best way to get rid of unused or expired medications is to take them to a medication drop-off location. Call your pharmacy or city hall to ask where the closest drop-off location is. If there is not a convenient drop-off location, follow the disposal instructions on the patient information that comes with your medicine. If you don't have this, follow these tips and throw the medicine in the trash:

  • Take the medicine out of its original container. To protect your privacy, scratch off any personal information on the label.

  • Mix the medicine with something that masks the medicine or makes it unappealing, like kitty litter or used coffee grounds.

  • Put the mixture in a container or a plastic bag and place it in your trash.

What about flushing?

Only a very few specific medications should be flushed down the sink or toilet. For a list of these drugs, visit the FDA website.

Talk to your pharmacist if you have questions about how to dispose of your medicine. Your pharmacist may also be able to tell you about any drug "take-back" programs in your area. You can also check with your state health department for additional information. 

Medicine cabinet must-haves

Once you have cleaned expired or unused products out of your medicine cabinet, be sure you have needed supplies and medications. Everybody takes a little spill here or there or gets a cough or diarrhea and then stumbles around the bathroom trying to find bandages or cough medicine or other medication. That's why you should have these medicine cabinet essentials always on hand:

  • Hydrogen peroxide for wounds

  • Antibiotic ointment

  • Adhesive bandages and sterile gauze pads

  • An oral thermometer

  • Pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, for headaches and/or other aches and pains

  • Sunscreen

  • Antidiarrhea medication

  • Cough medicine

  • Cold/flu medicine