What to do with old or unwanted medicines?

Every home has at least one medicine cabinet. Often, medicines grow old and expire but remain in our cabinets. This is not good for at least two reasons. First, medicines are a potential source of accidental and intentional source of poisoning.  Second, once past their expiry dates, medicines lost potency. Keeping expired medicines around may tempt us to use medicines without the supervision of a physician and that may not be effective. However, when medicines are expired or are no longer needed, it is very important to dispose of them properly to avoid harm to others.  Many drugs, if released into the environment, can cause environmental harm (think about narcotics, hormones, antibiotics etc.). And since Bangkok does not have proper water treatment facilities (most waste water runs directly into the Chao Praya and then into the ocean); we need to be extra careful.


Medicine Take-Back Programs

Probably the best and easiest way to dispose of your old or unwanted medicines is to take them back to your doctor or to the hospital pharmacy. Samitivej will do this but please don’t ask for a refund on unused medications.

Disposal in Household Trash

You can also follow these simple steps to dispose of most medicines in the household trash:

  • Do NOT crush tablets or capsules. They should be disposed of whole.
  • Mix medicines with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds;
  • Place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag; and
  • Throw the container in your household trash.
  • Before throwing out your empty pill bottle or other empty medicine packaging, remember to scratch out all information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.

images of pills

Flushing of Certain Medicines 

There is a small number of medicines that may be especially harmful and, in some cases, fatal with just one dose if they are used by someone other than the person for whom the medicine was prescribed. To prevent accidental ingestion by children, pets, or anyone else, a few medicines have specific disposal instructions indicating they should be flushed down the sink or toilet as soon as they are no longer needed, and when they cannot be disposed of through a medicine take-back program. You can check here for a list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing.  Check the active ingredient name carefully, since many drugs have different brand names in Thailand than in the USA. You may have also received disposal directions for these medicines when you picked up your prescription.  If your medicine is on this list and you did not receive information containing disposal instructions along with your dispensed prescription, you can find instructions on how to dispose of the medicines at DailyMed, by searching on the drug name and then looking in one of the following sections of the prescribing information:

  • Information for Patients and Caregivers
  • Patient Information
  • Patient Counseling Information
  • Safety and Handling Instructions
  • Medication Guide

For additional information, see Medication Disposal: Questions and Answers.


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