How to Dispose of Old Medications

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
November 02, 2017

Far too many people keep unused opioid painkillers. Here’s how to dispose of old medications before your teen or someone else takes them.  

This is a common scenario across the United States:

You have a surgery that is expected to bring on severe pain for some time afterwards. You go home with a vial of pills and a prescription for an opioid. But you don’t use up your prescription. Instead, you end up with a vial of pills in your bathroom cabinet. Often it sits there for years, while your children grow up.

The good news: most people don’t lunge at the chance to take prescription painkillers. In fact, according to a review of several studies covering more than 800 patients given painkillers after a surgery, between around 70 and 90 percent of these patients didn’t use up their prescription. Depending on the study, up to 70 percent of the painkiller ended up unused. They no longer had pain or, for around 15 to 30 percent, the painkiller created other problems.

But few people throw them out. 


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April 02, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA