Posted on: July 12, 2017 at 9:58 am
Last updated: September 21, 2017 at 3:55 pm

This amazing post was written by Jenn Ryan, a freelance writer, and editor who’s passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. You can read more of her work at

We’ve all done it. We have some kind of old prescription that we keep in our cabinet because we think we’ll need it one day. These medications stick around long past their expiration dates, waiting to be used again.

Why is this so bad? Wouldn’t we hear more about it if this was so harmful to our health?

The truth is that expired medication or otherwise useless medication has the potential to be harmful and should not be kept around. Of course, the answer is often not as simple as “throw it away”; there are some guidelines that need to be followed on how to properly store and dispose of unused medication.

Why Is Expired or Unused Medication Harmful?


First, let’s state the obvious reason: this medication is left in a place where presumably anyone could access it. Maybe it’s hidden, yes, but unless it’s kept in a safe, this medication could poison a child or another person who unwittingly takes it. How terrible would it be if someone was harmed as a result of a medication you haven’t taken for years?

Secondly, let’s talk about why expired medication could be harmful. If you’re confused about what the expiration date is, talk to your pharmacist. Otherwise, the date should be clearly printed on the bottle of medication.

These expiration dates exist for a reason: expired medicines can no longer be considered effective. This means they may have decreased in strength, but even more alarmingly, it could mean that bacteria has grown on your medicine or that it won’t even treat your condition [1]. This is dangerous because if you have an infection and take expired antibiotics, there’s no guarantee that they’ll treat your problem.

Basic Guide for Safekeeping Meds

Here’s what you can do firstly that won’t take much effort: know when your medicine expires and what the storage recommendations are. For instance, if it needs to be stored away from light, moisture, and heat, store it that way. These conditions may affect the potency of the medicine.

If you live with children or have children that visit often, it’s a great idea to lock up your medication in a lockable drawer or cabinet. Never assume that children will know not to take medicine. It’s also important to keep your medicine in a well-lit area, so that you know exactly what pills you’re taking [5].

How to Properly Dispose of Medication

If you’re just keeping a medication around because you don’t know how to get rid of it, educate yourself. Don’t worry, I’m here to help!

First, you could wait until National Drug Take-Back Day, which allows the public to drop off their unused or old medications at police stations, firehouses, or clinics during specified hours. If you are in the USA, this usually happens in April and you can find drop-off centers near you [2]. These medications are incinerated, meaning they won’t contaminate landfills or water supplies.

But why wait to get rid of your meds? Places such as CVS and Rite-Aid sell envelopes where you can mail back pills at a facility to be incinerated—this will cost you a few dollars, however.


Want a free option? Simply stop by a Walgreens and drop off your medication there. It’s totally anonymous and the meds will be incinerated. Before going, you’ll want to remove your label or scratch it out and then drop it off at the designated kiosk.

These are the best ways to safely dispose of your medication without polluting the environment! This is also the best way recommended by the FDA [3].

Disposal Methods That Are Not Recommended

You may have heard it said to mix pills with dirt, coffee grounds, or cat litter in a bag before putting them in the trash. Or, you may have heard of flushing them down the toilet. I would strongly recommend against these suggestions as they pollute our planet—and consequently, our people.

If you must, save your medications until you can safely drop them off or mail them back.


What about Syringes?

For unconventional medication items such as syringes and inhalers, you’ll need to do a bit more work. These items are not allowed to be taken back during National Drug Take-Back Day. You definitely should not throw them in the trash!

Here’s what you can do: inhalers may be able to be recycled, so contact your county facility to see what their recommendations are. For syringes, go to the Safe Needle Disposal website or call them at 1-800-643-1643 to find out where you can take your used syringes.

Why You Should Absolutely Get Rid of Medications

Although the risk is rare, why risk it? Don’t harm yourself from taking expired medication—just get rid of it and if you absolutely need the medication, ask your doctor for a new prescription.

Yes, expiration dates tend to be conservative, but this is to keep you safe and healthy [4]. If you have any doubt, speak to your healthcare provider or pharmacist. It’s never worth it to risk taking a medication that’s been expired for several years and to end up sicker than you were, to begin with!

Jenn Ryan
Health Expert
Jenn Ryan is a freelance writer and editor who's passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. She loves running, reading, and playing with her four rescued rabbits.

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