Getting rid of unused medications is something all of us do at some point or another. How to do it safely, though, is another story. Typical parenting moment: you reach into the medicine cabinet for vitamins or you’re hunting for ibuprofen or acetaminophen for a child’s fever and you grab a bottle of medication that, on closer examination, has an expiration date from several years ago. You realize you won’t use it. Before you toss that bottle in the trash, there are some safety precautions you can take to ensure the medication doesn’t end up in your sewer water, water source, or worse, in the hands of a curious toddler looking for treasure in the garbage can. The FDA provides detailed instructions on how to properly dispose of medications, but for the busy parent in all of us, there are three key takeaways:
1. MIX the medicines with things that bind
Take a bag of coffee grounds or kitty litter and dump the medication into it. The medication will bind with grounds or litter and be less likely to leak or spill out of the garbage once disposed. This method also discourages those curious little fingers (and hungry pets) from ingesting or getting into the medication!
2. SEAL the mixture in a container
Make sure your kitty litter/medication mixture is properly sealed in a sealed plastic sandwich bag or a take-out food container with a sealed lid before throwing in the trash.
3. THROW the mixture away
Now you’re okay to throw the medication (and binder) into the trash safely. Don’t flush medications in the toilet or dump them into a body of water of any kind.
The One Thing You Shouldn’t Toss:
While knee-deep in a spring cleaning to-do list, it can be easy to want to throw away every item in the medicine cabinet you don’t have an impending need for. But if you happen to have any liquid medication in your arsenal of symptom-fighters, please do not throw away the dosing device that came with it! Over-the-counter liquid medications come with a diverse set of measuring tools and there is still no standard for how they’re packaged (even though the FDA imposed rule changes for greater clarity back in 2009). Some OTC medications for children have syringes, some have caps, some have spoons with measurement lines on it for dosing. Every 8 minutes a child under the age of 6 experiences a medication error, while unintended medication ingestions send 70,000 children to the ER every year in the United States. Keeping the correct dosing device with its proper medication (use a rubber band to keep them together if you have to) can help prevent errors from occurring.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released updated recommendations in a new policy statement for how we prescribe liquid medications just this week. The big takeaway for us all — don’t use the kitchen spoon for dosing meds for your children and know that all physicians and clinicians should prescribe using only metric milliliters (mL) instead of recommending OTC medications or dosing prescription medications in teaspoons (tsp), “cc” or other units. Also, a syringe (like in the image below) has been found to be the safest way to dose medications and is preferred over cups, caps, or spoons. Goals with this statement are to clear up confusion and reduce unintentional overdoses of medications, especially in infants and young children. I spoke with KING 5 News, the NBC affiliate here in Seattle about the statement and what it could mean for parents and caregivers in creating even OTC medication dosing for parents:
This post was written in partnership with knowyourOTCs.org. In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use (and dispose of!) OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I like the Know Your OTCs tagline, “Take your healthcare personally.” You can follow @KnowYourOTCs #KnowYourOTCs for more info on health and wellness.
How did you know I need to know how to dispose of meds? Very timely. Thank you.
Gloria Hall says
Don’t the medicines just go into the soil and come back to bite us later? Many communities have a safe place like at the police station or someplace like that to take them and they are supposed to get rid of them safely for you. With all of the digging at the landfills those plastic bags are sure to be ripped open and the drugs released into the soil one way or another, this can’t be good. I guess if you have no other choice but to use the method you describe that is better than nothing but is there a really safe way to get rid of medicine–I know some of it loses its strength but there are a lot that doesn’t and that is what worries me.