Disposal of Unused Medications After Cancer

Safe disposal of drugsYou are on the other side of your child’s cancer, from cancer fighter to cancer survivor! You are cautiously elated cancer will not own each day from now on and look forward to getting life back to “normal.”  You no longer want your home to resemble a drugstore with cabinets full of unused cancer pills, syringes, and other items that helped save your child’s life. You want them thrown away…far away! But how do you do that? Drugs as potent as cancer drugs should not find their way into our oceans.

Don’t Flush Drugs!

So, what do you do with all those medications? Your doctors and care team order the prescriptions, but have they told you how to discard them? No, they don’t! Flushing pills down the toilet can harm the environment once they get in the water supply and many of these drugs are toxic or contain opioids. It is vital to dispose of them properly, so they do not pose a risk to you or other members of your family.

Options for Disposing Cancer Drugs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides helpful information about how to dispose of certain medication types. You can also consult your child’s care team and ask if they will take the unused medication from you and dispose of them properly; some hospitals will provide this service while many do not. Do not assume they have resources available to help. There are options available for disposal, but the key is finding an easily accessible location. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also sponsors a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day twice a year in April and October. Often, this does not coincide with your timing to rid your home of these drugs.

Recently, some nationwide pharmacies have begun to provide kiosks for medication drop-off in specified locations around the country. Both CVS and Walgreens provide this service, even for medications not purchased at those locations. The following websites offer search locators to find drop-off sites in your area. Enter your state, city, or zip code to see a list of disposal points. Most sites are within pharmacies or supermarkets.

Drop-off Locations for Unused Drugs and Medical Supplies

Safe disposal of syringesDepartment of Justice (DOJ) and DEA

Webpage: https://apps2.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubdispsearch/spring/main?execution=e5s1

This joint task force is headed by the DEA to collect unwanted medications during the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day and beyond. The site provides a list of controlled substance public disposal locations.

National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP)

Webpage: https://safe.pharmacy/drug-disposal/

A nonprofit organization that works with state pharmacy boards to protect public health. They provide a drug disposal locator to find disposal boxes in your area.

Dispose of My Meds

Webpage: http://disposemymeds.org/medicine-disposal-locator/

This organization provides an online resource to find medication disposal programs at independent community pharmacies.

Drop-Off Sites Have Restrictions

It is essential to consider that not all items will be accepted at the drop-off locations. Please check with the pharmacy or store before dropping off. Remember to remove personal identification and prescription numbers from the bottle, either by covering the information with a marker or peeling the label off the container.

Accepted items Not accepted items
  • Prescription medications & patches
  • Needles and syringes (sharps)
  • Over the counter medications, ointments, lotions & liquids
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Aerosol cans
  • Illegal drugs
  • Inhalers
  • Thermometers

Since not all pharmacies have a drop-off location, your pharmacist may offer a product called DisposeRx. This product is environmentally friendly and can be used at home to prepare unused medication for disposal. The DisposeRx packets “contain patented and proprietary solidifying materials that provide a safe solution for the disposal of unused or expired medications. When water and the DisposeRx powder are added to drugs in the prescription vial and shaken, the drugs are dissolved and then chemically and physically sequestered in a viscous polymer gel.” You can place the packet in your trash can.

No Drop-Off Locations Near You? Other Disposal Options

If no drop-off locations are near your home, you may be able to dispose of the medication in your household trash, with some added precautions.

The FDA recommends the following steps before disposal:

  1. Remove the medication from their original containers and mix them with used coffee grounds or dirt. This process makes the drugs less desirable to children or pets looking through the trash.
  2. Place the mixture in a sealable container, such as a storage bag or empty can. Doing this will prevent anything from leaking.
  3. Throw the container into the garbage can.
  4. Remove any personal information on the original medication bottles and containers and discard them in the trash or recycle bin.

Disposal of Needles and Syringes

Disposing of needlesMany children with cancer are not only ingesting medicine in pill or liquid forms, but also using needles and syringes (sharps) to administer intravenous medications. Disposal of sharps can be challenging because guidelines and programs vary depending on location and local laws. Contact your area health department or garbage removal service for specific instructions. There will often be a dropbox or collection site at hospitals, pharmacies (separate from medication disposal), and fire or police stations. Public household hazardous waste collection sites may also have special sharps containers used for removal.

Once you have a disposal plan in place, have your child help dump the medicines as an excellent way for them to feel empowered and see that the treatment process has ended, and they can get back to being a kid.

Here to Serve is ready to help you and your child throughout their cancer treatment. Our Family Care Coordinators will provide valuable resources and guidance throughout the entire journey. If you or someone you know has a child who was recently diagnosed with cancer, have them contact Here to Serve for help with home needs, finances, meals, laundry, little-known resources, housekeeping and childcare. Click here to get the help needed.

By Chris Smith