The Perspective

Unused Medicine: A Prescription for Safe Disposal

Prescription and over-the-counter medications – we all need them at one time or another, and we all need to dispose of them when they are no longer required or past their expiration date.

It is important to know the appropriate methods for disposing of expired, unwanted or unused medications to ensure they’re not consumed accidently, to reduce the opportunities for abuse and to protect the environment.

The preferred methods of disposal are community medicine disposal programs and community “take back” programs. In Southern Nevada, the Clark County Water Reclamation District has partnered with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, as well as the police departments of Boulder City, Henderson, Mesquite and North Las Vegas, to offer the “Medicine Disposal Program” to the community.

This program allows residents to safely and anonymously dispose of over-the-counter and prescription medicine at drop-boxes located inside police department substations. These types of medicine disposal programs provide safe, environmentally sound, and secure methods of disposal for the community. More information on this program, and a map of drop off location sites, is available on the Clark County Water Reclamation District’s website:

If a disposal site is not convenient, follow these simple steps to dispose of most medications in your household trash:

  • Take your prescription drugs out of their original containers.
  • Mix medications (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with an undesirable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds.
  • Place the mixture in a container such as sealed plastic bag or empty container with a lid.
  • Conceal or remove any personal information, including the Rx number, on the empty pharmaceutical containers by covering it with permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off. Look to see if the container can be recycled. If not, put in the trash.
  • Place the sealed container with the drug mixture in the trash.

The importance appropriately storing medications, and then appropriately disposing of them, cannot be overstated. Toddlers are attracted to colorful pills and liquids that look like candy. As a result, every year thousands of children are hospitalized, and some even die, after taking medicine not meant for them. Teenagers share stolen prescriptions and the majority of teens and young adults say they obtain prescription drugs they abuse from friends and relatives, sometimes without their knowledge. According to a 2012 survey from Monitoring the Future, 50 percent of high school seniors said that opioid drugs, other than heroin (e.g., Vicodin), would be fairly or very easy to get.

In addition to the public health ramifications related to accidental overdose in children and potential for abuse, there are environmental aspects to consider. According to the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) there are reports of trace amounts of medications in the water systems. While disposal of medications by flushing does contribute to the amount of medicine found in the water, much of the levels can be attributed to drug’s being eliminated from people’s bodies naturally, when they go to the bathroom. While there is no evidence that pharmaceuticals in the environment are responsible for any negative health effects in humans, keeping our water free from chemicals is an important public health goal.

Using a community resource to dispose of your unused medications or following a few simple steps to safely dispose of medications at home can help prevent accidental poisoning of children and pets, deter abuse by teenagers and adults, avoid the accidental misuse or taking of the wrong medication, and keep medications from entering water sources when poured down the drain or flushed down the toilet.

For more disposal tips for your unused prescription and over-the-counter medications, visit the health district’s Prescription Disposal webpage or get more information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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