How to dispose of expired medicines


Prescription and over the counter drugs cost a lot of money, but sometimes you use part of a tube or bottle, then forget about it.

Meanwhile, it's gone past the expiration date. do you throw it out or is it still good? That's what we wanted to know.

Americans buy a lot of medicines every year. Estimates say more than $250 billion worth, and we also throw a lot of them out.

"If it says it's expired, I'm done. I just throw it away," said Mimi Johnson from Oakland.

"Every time I go through my medicine cabinet I find something that's overdue," said Lizzie Calogero from Berkeley.

At the Pharmaca Drug Store in Oakland, folks can drop off their old medicines, and Pharmaca will dispose of them safely.

"Oftentimes, people are prescribed medication and it lasts two or three weeks and their problem is gone and they still have half a tube," said pharmacist Blamoh Twegbe.

Twegbe says it's stuff people brought in just the past two weeks. And each one cost somebody some real bucks.

"It could be thousands of dollars in those bins, but they're expired medications so theyr'e worth nothing pretty much now," said Twegbe.

And that's the tip of the iceberg. The Teleosis Institute of Berkeley collects and disposes of these old medicines. It estimates there is $70 billion worth of expired drugs in people's medicine chests across the country right now.

More than half is over-the-counter medicine.

"When I throw it out I feel sorry for the waste of money," said Calogero.

"It's wasteful but if it's expired maybe it's not going to be effective," said Johnson.

So we wondered if consumers can still use their old medicines.

"The expiration date is not a drop dead date. It doesn't mean after that time the drug is no good," said Dr. Bill Soller from UCSF School of Pharmacy.

Dr. Soller says drugs may still be good past the expiration. But it's not guaranteed.

"If it's not for a life threatening condition, then it's your choice about whether you want to try that pain reliever for a simple headache to see if it has an effect and prevailing wisdom says it will," said Dr. Soller.

But if your life's at stake, he says, err on the side of safety and call your pharmacist.

"Is it a life threatening situation and if it is, keep your medicines within the expiration dates," said Dr. Soller.

He says the dates you see are based on the length of time a drug was tested -- not necessarily how long it will actually last.

Still, an expired drug did cause a problem for Congeras, when her son got a sudden bronchial attack.

"The only medicine we had for him was a good four or five months overdue so we went ahead and used it. Hardly did anything," said Congeras.

So here are tips from the pharmacy experts:

  • Buy medicines in smaller quantities so they won't expire before you use them up.
  • Store them in a cool and dry place.
  • Look at the expiration dates before you buy, so you'll have a longer time to use them.

    It also can be tricky to dispose of expired drugs, you shouldn't throw them in the trash or flush them away either.

    Related links:
    Teleosis Institute
    Green Pharmacy Take Back Locations
    Drugstore that accepts old medicines for free

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