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Medication safety: Safely disposing of medications

In the home environment, being an active manager of your medications includes disposing of expired and discontinued medications. Keeping medications that you no longer need or that are expired may create unintended harm such as unintentional use and accidental overdose. You may mistakenly duplicate a medication by taking an expired one. Keeping expired and discontinued medications increases risk of mistakes. Storing medications you no longer are prescribed increases the risk of medication misappropriation by personal care assistants, family members, and friends who may be seeking the medications you have.

Sometimes people believe they may need the medication in the future, someone else in their home may need it, or, because of the cost invested, the medication should not be thrown away. However, medications are only effective when used properly and within a period of time. Storing unneeded and expired medications increases the possible risk of harm – a greater cost to your health and the health of others.

Medications can produce toxic and unintended problems in our environment when disposed of inappropriately. For example, antibiotics may leach into our water sources when flushed down the toilet or in the sink. Throwing medications away in the trash may expose pets or young children to this danger. Knowing how to reduce the potential environmental toxicity is important for our public health. Never flush your medications.

Where to dispose of medications

In February 2013, the Northwestern MA District Attorney’s office and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in response to problems of medication disposal, launched a campaign announcing a safe way to dispose of unwanted medications: free drug collection boxes. Fifteen MedReturn Drug Collection Units™ are located in police station lobbies throughout Hampshire county. Medications left in these units are collected and incinerated. The result is increased safety in our homes and natural environment. These units are simple to access; just drop unwanted prescription medications, non-prescription medications, supplements or veterinary medications in the box. For more information, visit