What am I supposed to do with my unused pain medications?

March 20, 2017

Article Written by: Kris Kuehl, DPT

We understand that many of our patients use of narcotic pain medication (such as Oxycontin, Percocet, and Vicodin) to temporarily cope with pain after a surgery, an injury, or on a long term basis to manage chronic pain.  Now more than ever there is a growing awareness of the risks of long term opioid use, so one of our goals at PTOSI is to help patients manage/reduce their pain in other ways.  We do our best to address our patient’s mobility and movement impairments so that they can tolerate positions and activities more comfortably.  We work with patients to teach self-management strategies to head pain off at the pass.  We even counsel our patients on the neurophysiology of pain as there is a growing amount of evidence that learning about how our bodies process “pain” can help with the management of feeling pain. We are so very happy when our patients report back to us that they could go longer before taking a pain pill or that they were able to get away from their narcotic pain medications all together.

So, now that those narcotics are not needed, what should be done with them?  Even just sitting in the back of your medicine cabinet any unneeded medication can be hazardous; it’s best to get them out of your home responsibly.  The DEA, FDA and the EPA each have recommendations but here is a summary.

  • Do not flush down the toilet or sink unless instructions specifically recommend this.
  • Take your medications somewhere for proper disposal, such as a “Take Back” program.
    • The DEA’s National Take-Back day is April 29, 2017. Check their website in April for more information.  https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/index.html
    • The DEA has a search feature on website to find the pharmacies in/near your zip code that accept unused medications. https://apps.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubdispsearch.
    • If taking back your medications is not possible, putting them in your trash is an option as long as you do it responsibly.
      • Take medications out of their original container and mix with other undesirable trash (like coffee grounds, kitty litter, etc.) so that animals or children do not get into it.
      • Place in a sealable container, such as a ziploc or empty margarine container.
      • Put that container in the trash.
      • Also, scratch off all personal information & Rx number from your prescription container and recycle or throw away.