Protecting Your Family and the Environment – How to Dispose of Old Prescription Drugs!

When was the last time you checked your bathroom cabinet or bedside table for old prescription medications?

By Catherine Blinder

It’s easy to push those bottles to the back of the medicine cabinet because it’s never clear what to do with them once you no longer need them. “Oh, I’ll hang on to that bottle of cough syrup; you never know when I can use it again!” or “Those sleeping pills are only a few years old; I bet they’re still good!” or “Maybe someone in the family might need those antibiotics.”

No. Likely, the cough syrup will not be useful next time, or the sleeping pills might find their way into the wrong hands, and we guarantee that those antibiotics have a shelf life.

Prescription medication that is long past its “use-by” date or medicine that you are no longer taking or is no longer prescribed for you or a family member should be disposed of correctly and safely.

There are two reasons to dispose of unused and unnecessary medication in the proper ways – one is to make sure that prescription drugs are not misused.  If you have children in the home, there is a chance of accidental ingestion or misuse. Young children are curious, and every year there are thousands who are accidentally poisoned. Children under 5 years of age are at the greatest risk, and the most dangerous for them are the drugs most often seen in the home – blood pressure medications, diabetes drugs, sleeping pills, and narcotic painkillers. Prescription drugs that are lifesaving for adults can be deadly for a young child.

Unfortunately, prescription drugs have also become the target of theft and misuse, oftentimes by people who have access to the residence. The number one substance abuse among 12- to 17-year-olds is prescription drugs, and much of that supply is unwittingly coming from the medicine cabinets of their parents, grandparents, and friends. Our medicine cabinets have become the number one drug dealer for many teenagers. If you can, speak to the young people in your life about the dangers of prescription drug misuse and its serious consequences.

In addition, the leading cause of pet poisoning is the accidental ingestion of human medication. Over-the-counter drugs that we take often for simple pain relief, such as Tylenol, Motrin, and Aleve can cause serious illness and death in dogs and cats.

It’s important to keep all medications, even over-the-counter ones, safely stored and away from children and pets.

Secondly, significant environmental damage, particularly to our lakes, ponds, and rivers, is the result of medications flushed down toilets or drains. Most prescription drugs can pass through municipal treatment systems and poison and disrupt the biology of aquatic life in our waterways and oceans. A conservative estimate of the drugs flushed each year is over 250 million pounds. Please, never flush prescription medication down the toilet or sink. There are safe ways to dispose of these drugs at home:

  1. Put drugs in a plastic bag or a coffee can sealed with tape, and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or coffee grounds and a little liquid, put them in your trash to be picked up, or take them to a regulated disposal site, such as your town dump.

In other words, make them as unappealing as possible!!

Using the Medication Drop-Boxes in your town keeps medicines from getting into the wrong hands and protects the environment. Your town may have a medication drop-box at the local police station - law enforcement is the only entity legally able to accept these medications and process them properly and safely. Law enforcement takes control of and properly destroys drugs on a regular basis as part of their routine operations.

Many municipal police departments in Connecticut participate in the Medication Drop-Box program, through which all residents can safely dispose of unused or expired medications. These programs are a confidential and free service.

Check here to see if your town has a Medication Drop-Box:

Some pharmacies will also take your expired medication through the prescription drug drop box program.

You could also call your local police department to inquire if they participate in a Drug Take-Back event.

Help keep your family and the environment safe by carefully and safely disposing of your unused prescription medications – and remember to pass this information on to your family, friends and neighbors!


This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at