Using and Disposing of Medication Safely

Members of the Alliance for Balanced Pain Management advocate for access to appropriate, integrated pain management. If medications are prescribed, they should be used, stored and disposed of appropriately to help reduce abuse, misuse or diversion.

Our member organizations support multi-tiered efforts to educate health care professionals, patients, caregivers, and the public about the appropriate and safe use, storage and disposal of medications to alleviate pain with an aim to reduce inappropriate uses of prescription narcotics, including opioids. Below, please find information and tips about how to safely take, store and dispose of prescription pain medications.

General tips for safe use of prescription
painkillers include:

Prescription pain medications can be addictive, and the misuse, abuse and diversion of pain relievers, sedatives, tranquilizers and other products represent a growing problem. Before even beginning a prescription pain medication, it’s important to work out an “exit plan” with your doctor for when you will stop taking the medicine and how to discard any unused medicine.

Prescription medications used to treat pain can have serious side effects. They can impair judgment, thinking and memory, and cause sleep disturbances. Read about the side effects in the packaging information, and let your doctor know about any unusual or disturbing side effects.

Never share pain medications that have been prescribed for you with someone else. Side effects can be harmful and pose potential dangers. Unintentional overdosing is a real and growing problem. According to the American College of Preventive Medicine, nearly 60 percent of prescription medications used non-medically are obtained from family or friends. Keep prescription medications out of reach of children in your household, and take measures, such as locking up medicines, to prevent teens and others from accessing them.

Doing so affects how the medication gets absorbed in the body. Always follow dosing instructions on the label or the package leaflet carefully. Don’t take more or less medication than prescribed or abruptly stop taking your medication. Always check with your doctor first, even if you begin to feel better.

Prescription pain medications should never be used with alcohol. Mixing the two can be lethal. Be sure to give your doctor a list of all the medications you take, including over-the-counter remedies, herbal supplements and vitamins. These can interfere with prescription treatments.

Abuse and misuse of prescription pain medications is a growing problem, contributing to a rise in accidental overdoses, addiction and illegal use. Check out the link below for more information about how to safely discard or return your unused prescription pain medications. 

Disposal and Take-Back

Home medicine cabinets are the source of 60 to 70 percent of drugs that are used illegally, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Each year, more than 71,000 children age 18 and younger are seen in U.S. emergency rooms for unintentional overdoses of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Take measures to keep medicine away from anyone else in your household. 

For more tips on securing your medications, visit Medicine Abuse Project – How to Safeguard Your Home

Drug Take Back Programs

In September 2014, Congress passed a regulation amending the Controlled Substances Act that expands options for disposing of unused prescription medications like opioid pain medications, stimulants and anti-depressants. Some pharmacies will set up collection bins for consumers to return unused prescription medications, but not all pharmacies will provide disposal or collection bins and they aren’t required to do so. Consumers should be sure to check with their local pharmacy first.

The new rules encourage public and private entities to develop a variety of methods of collection and disposal in a secure, convenient and responsible manner. Members of industry and law enforcement are working to develop new ways to collect and destroy controlled substances. Recent approaches include having collection receptacles at pharmacies, clinics or hospitals and establishing mail-back programs. Some private companies have designed special pouches or steel boxes for prescription drug disposal. In many communities, consumers can anonymously return unused prescription drugs to their local police departments. Check with your local law enforcement agency to see if it participates in any drug take-back activities.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two methods for getting rid of unwanted medicines in addition to take-back programs. According to the FDA, unused medications can be mixed (not crushed) into coffee grinds or cat litter, sealed in a plastic bag or container and thrown away with household trash. Be sure to scratch out any personal information on your medicine’s bottle or prescription label. The FDA also allows disposal of certain medicines by flushing. Check the FDA’s website for more information about what medications can be safely flushed: 

It is important to note that flushing controlled substances or throwing them away with household garbage is discouraged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for environmental reasons. Newer technologies for home disposal offer alternative, environment friendly options.

Disposal Science

The proper disposal of prescription medications is critical to protecting your family. While disposing of expired or unused medications is important, neutralizing the medication before it goes into your trash is equally important. Thanks to science and technology there is a way to neutralize your medications, whether they are pills, patches or liquids; safely and effectively in your own home. The use of activated carbon, which was first used in 1831 by a pharmacist to remove lethal compounds from the body, is used today to neutralize or deactivate prescription drugs.

By neutralizing prescription drugs in your own home, you can quickly remove the drugs and easily dispose of them in your household trash. Deactivating prescription drugs before they are disposed of is also better for the environment. Using a neutralization system at home creates a safer home and is environmentally friendly.

Learn More