Q: What is the safest way to dispose of unwanted medications? My husband and I have drawers full of unused and expired drugs that we'd like to get rid of, and get them out of sight of our curious grandkids. What can you tell me?
-- Concerned Grandmother
A: The safest and most responsible way to dispose of unwanted, unused or expired, medications is to take it to a medicine take-back event. And the next prime opportunity to do this is on National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, which is Oct. 26.
National Take-Back Day is a free, anonymous program that will have around 6,000 designated sites nationwide -- including many fire and police stations, and community centers -- where you can drop off your unwanted medications.
To find a collection site near you, visit dea.gov or call 800-882-9539.
The reasons take-back sites are a better option than tossing the medications yourself are because throwing drugs in the trash gives kids, grandkids and pets the opportunity to get at them, and a wastebasket is a likely place for family drug abusers to check after they've looked in the medicine cabinet. And flushing them down the toilet - unless instructed - is generally a bad idea because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to minimize drug residues in the public water supply.
If you happen to miss take-back day or there's no site available near you, talk to your pharmacist to see if he or she knows of another medicine disposal program in your area, or call your city or county government's household trash and recycling service. Or, if you want to dispose of your pills on your own, here are some tips recommended by the FDA.
First, remove all personal information and drug names from the label by scratching it off, or marking over it with a permanent marker.
Then take the medications out of their original bottles and mix them in another container (like a sealable bag or empty margarine tub) with an undesirable substance, such as cooking oil, coffee grounds or cat litter. Then seal the container and throw it in the trash. This will make the medication less appealing to children, pets and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
There are, however, a few medicines that may be especially harmful or even fatal if used by someone other than the person for whom the medicine was prescribed. These medicines have specific disposal instructions indicating they should be flushed down the sink or toilet as soon as they're no longer needed, and when they cannot be disposed of through a medicine take-back program. To see an FDA list of medications that should be flushed once expired, go to www.fda.gov, and type "flush drugs" into the search box.
If you have other questions about proper drug disposal, talk to your pharmacist.
And to keep the medications that you and your husband currently use secured and out of reach of your grandchildren and others, lock them up in a drawer, medicine or file cabinet, or consider purchasing a medicine lock box at your local pharmacy or big-box retail store.
Jim Miller, a contributor to the NBC Today show, is the author of "The Savvy Senior" book. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.