What do you do with your prescription medication when you no longer need it? Do you dispose of it, or do you hold onto it in case you need it again down the road? While it may not seem like a big deal, improperly storing a surplus of prescription medications can be very dangerous for both families and their visiting guests. 

The National Safety Council has described the billions of prescription pills found in home medicine cabinets as “the largest source of easily available and ‘free’ abused medications.” 

Many people don’t realize these risks or don’t believe they could be true in their own household. This is part of the reason why holding on to prescription medications is such a common practice across the country. In a poll by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, participants were asked if they had any leftover prescription medications in their homes. Half of the respondents said yes. 

The risks of sharing prescription medications with others

Sharing prescription medications with others can be risky and potentially dangerous. The medication may not be appropriate for the other person’s medical condition, and they may have an adverse reaction or suffer from serious side effects. 

Sharing medications can also lead to incorrect dosages and potential drug interactions, which can be life-threatening. Remember, the act of sharing prescription medication is illegal and can result in consequences for both the giver and receiver.

Only take medications prescribed by a healthcare provider and do not share them with others. If you or someone you know is in need of medication, encourage them to speak with a healthcare provider to obtain a proper prescription—or point them in the direction of discount cards and coupon codes if cost is an issue.

The importance of not taking expired medications

Taking expired medications can be dangerous and may lead to serious health consequences. 

Medications lose their potency over time, making them less effective at treating medical conditions. Expired medications can also degrade and break down into harmful substances that can cause adverse reactions, allergies, or toxicity. In some cases, expired medications can even lead to bacterial growth and cause infections.

Check the expiration date on all medications before taking them. If you are unsure whether a medication is still safe to take, consult with your healthcare provider or pharmacist. If you no longer need a prescription before your supply is out, it’s time to discover how to properly dispose of the excess.

To learn ways in which you can lower the risks associated with keeping excess medication, we’ve compiled some tips on how to safely store and properly dispose of your surplus prescriptions. 

What to do with excess prescription medications

Without the proper precautions, it’s easy for the wrong person to access your medications and potentially abuse them.


  • To ensure that your prescriptions are safe and in the right hands, store them in a secure place, preferably up high and out of view, and reach from guests, children, and anybody else who could potentially find them. Don’t store prescriptions in a place that guests have easy and private access to, as this is a common way for medication to be stolen, even from friends and family.
  • Keep track of where you store medication to ensure it is easily available in case it needs to be administered. Take inventory of your medications at least once every six months to make sure everything is untouched and in order.
  • Store medication somewhere cool and dry to maintain the prescription’s quality. Make sure the medication stays in its original bottle, as they are designed to protect the prescription from light to maintain its quality. 
  • Avoid using prescriptions that have expired. If a medication’s color, texture, or overall quality has changed, dispose of it, as this is an indication that it’s gone bad. Old medication can be a hotbed for bacteria and fungus growth and should not be used.
  • If you are storing prescriptions for numerous people, set apart your medicine by storing it on different shelves, or in separate locations altogether. This avoids confusion and lowers the risk of potentially taking the wrong medication.


  • If you’ve gotten over your illness or condition and no longer need your prescription, safely dispose of the remaining medication. Although people tend to keep leftover medication in case they need it again, prescriptions shouldn’t be saved. If you require medication again, it should be prescribed by your doctor.
  • Do not flush prescription medication, unless you’re specifically instructed to on the label. Instead, safely throw away the medication in the trash by mixing it with an unpalatable substance. You can use things like dirt, old coffee grounds, food scraps, or cat litter. The mixture should be placed in a sealed plastic bag before disposal.
  • Bring your medication to a participating pharmacy and use their take-back program, in which they’ll safely dispose of medication on your behalf. For your privacy, be sure to remove any personal information prior to dropping off your medication. 
  • For certain medications, Walmart pharmacies offer DisposeRX to their patients as a way to dispose of their excess medication. According to its website, DisposeRX is a “small packet containing ingredients that… when emptied into a pill bottle with warm water, ultimately enable patients to responsibly dispose of leftover medications in their trash.” 

Talk to your doctor about the disposal of prescription medications

Having a conversation with your doctor about medication disposal can help prevent accidental ingestion by children or pets. Prescription drugs, if not disposed of properly, can end up in the wrong hands and cause harm to others. 

Your doctor can provide you with guidance on how to dispose of unused or expired medications safely. They may recommend taking the medications to a designated collection site or pharmacy for disposal, or provide instructions for at-home disposal. It is essential to follow the instructions provided by your doctor or pharmacist to protect yourself, your family, and your community from the potential harms associated with improperly disposing of prescription medications.

The environmental impact of improperly-disposed medication

When medications are flushed down the toilet or thrown in the trash, they can end up in waterways or landfills, contaminating soil and water sources. This can harm wildlife and aquatic organisms, and even enter the food chain. In addition, certain medications contain chemicals that are not biodegradable and can persist in the environment for years. The environmental impact of improper medication disposal is not well understood, but studies suggest that it may contribute to antibiotic resistance and other environmental health concerns. Properly disposing of medications through designated collection sites or at-home methods can help reduce the environmental impact and protect the health of our planet.

By following these tips and remembering to safely store and dispose of your excess prescriptions, you can ensure you are doing the responsible thing to keep your family and friends safe.

Prevention Today: Would you like to learn more about prevention in Middlesex county? Visit our Middlesex County Prevention Hub page to see our programs and services.

Source: Hannah Freedman, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse

Image Credit: Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya on Unsplash

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