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Why You Should Get Rid of Leftover Medication – April 2023

Take a look at your medicine cabinet — or any place you store your medications and supplements. You probably have at least one medication or supplement that is past its expiry date or is no longer needed. It is past time that you got rid of them.

Here is why — and how — you should remove all that unneeded medication from your shelves.

Why you should get rid of unwanted medication

Unwanted, expired, or leftover medications do more than just take up space. They can pose a danger to your family.

Accidental poisoning
Prescription medications are prescribed for specific people based on their diagnoses. If someone else uses them, they could become severely ill or even die. Unneeded medications contribute to accidental medication poisoning.

Children are especially vulnerable to this. Each year, about 50,000 young children visit emergency rooms because they got into unsecured medications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Substance misuse
Misuse of prescription drugs, especially pain killers and stimulants, is a major problem. All these unneeded drugs on your shelf increase the chances that someone with a substance misuse problem will getting their hands on them. This could be someone in your household, a guest, or even a thief.

Recent data from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics highlight how pervasive the substance misuse problem really is, as more than 18% of Americans over the age of 12 — some 52 million people — have intentionally misused prescription drugs at least once in their lifetime, and about 6% of Americans misuse prescription drugs each year.

Getting rid of unneeded and expired prescriptions ensures that you are not providing easy access to drugs for someone with a substance misuse problem.

When to get rid of leftover medication

You may sometimes hold on to medications if you need them for chronic or ongoing medical issues. If this is the case, store them in a secure location, where they are out of reach or access. If possible, keep them in a lockbox or locked cabinet. Avoid keeping extras in your purse or nightstand.

Get rid of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications and supplements when:

  • Your doctor or pharmacist changes your prescription but you still have some left.
  • You feel better and your doctor says you can stop taking the medicine.
  • You have OTC medicines and supplements that you no longer need.
  • Your medicines and supplements are past their expiration date.
  • Your medication or supplement was not properly stored — for example, a medication that needed to be refrigerated but was left at room temperature.

If you are prescribed oral antibiotics, such as pills or liquids, you should not have any left. Do not stop taking an antibiotic just because you feel better. Taking the full course helps reduce the chances of your infection coming back or you becoming resistant to the antibiotic.

How to get rid of unwanted medication

Getting rid of unwanted medications is part of improving medication safety at home. However, safely disposing unwanted medications is important.

The safest way to dispose of unused pharmaceuticals is to drop them off at pharmacies, police stations, and other locations that participate in drug take-back programs. To find an authorized drug collection site near you, call the DEA Diversion Control Division at 1-800-882-9539 or Google “drug disposal near me.” You can also take them to a DEA National Drug Take-Back Event. Search for a DEA National Drug Take-Back Day near you at

You can also dispose of leftover medications at home. For most medications, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends removing the medications from their original container and mixing them with coffee grounds or cat litter. This prevents others from retrieving and using the medication. Place this mixture in a sealable plastic bag or container before placing it in the trash. For opioid pain patches, follow the disposal directions on the label.

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