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  • Expired Prescription Drugs | Safety & Proper Disposal

    Expired Prescription Drugs | Safety & Proper Disposal

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), on behalf of the Department of Defense, monitors the Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) which determines if medications are effective after their expiration date. 

    SLEP is an important program that allows us to know if certain medications are harmful after they’ve expired. Many of us are guilty of leaving expired over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs in our medicine cabinet for too long. 

    If you’ve been wondering how to safely dispose of unused medications or how effective expired drugs can be, plenty of information and resources are available.

    Taking Expired Prescription Drugs

    Taking expired prescription medicines can be dangerous. Because each medication is vastly different from the next, drug expiration dates can have a wide range. 

    In fact, as soon as the medication leaves the manufacturer, the potency steadily decreases over time. The SLEP program helps to monitor this. 


    Epi-pens are epinephrine auto-injectors that inject a person suffering from an allergic reaction with adrenaline. Epi-pens can be dangerous once they meet their expiration date due to the fact that epinephrine degrades quickly.

    How To Dispose Of Expired Prescription Drugs

    To begin the drug disposal process, you’ll first want to find all of the expired medications in your home, checking the expiration date. Examples of medications that expire include:

    • inhalers
    • epi-pens
    • liquid antibiotics
    • creams
    • opioids
    • supplements

    Home Disposal

    Once you’ve gathered up all of your old medications, you can follow the guidelines presented by the CDC by disposing of medications at home. 

    Medication disposal at home may consist of flushing medications down the toilet or sink or throwing medications away in the household trash. 

    When disposal boxes are unavailable, you can take a look at the FDA’s flush list to determine which medicines can be flushed. 

    If you’d rather throw the medicines away in the trash, there are some steps to follow:

    1. Remove all expired medicine from their original containers. 
    2. Take the medications and combine them with coffee grounds, kitty litter, or dirt. 
    3. Put the entire mixture into a plastic bag or container.
    4. Throw the unwanted medications in the trash.

    National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

    The FDA states that the best way to dispose of your unused medicines is through a drug take back program. Thankfully, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors National Prescription Drug Take Back Day which takes place nationwide in various communities. 

    If you have several medications ready for safe disposal, this is an excellent way to get rid of the harmful or unsafe drugs in your home. Be sure to check with your local law enforcement to find out more information about the program. 

    Drop Boxes

    You can drop off your medication at various places where there are drop box locations. Even certain pharmacies allow you to bring in expired prescription medications so they can be disposed of properly. 

    If you’re unable to attend National Prescription Drug Take Back Day or there aren’t any drop boxes nearby, speak to your health care provider to determine your best course of action for getting rid of expired or unused medications. 

    If you or a loved one struggles with prescription drug abuse, please contact us to learn about our treatment programs.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Your Prescription Medicine: Tips for Safe Storage and Disposal
    US Food & Drug Administration - Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know
    US Food & Drug Administration - Where and How to Dispose of Unused Medicines
    US National Library of Medicine - Drug Expiry Date: The Myth and the Reality
    US National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - How and When to Get Rid of Unused Medicines

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on July 26, 2022
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