Grumpy old meds and how to get rid of them

Tips on how to dispose old expired medication

A bounty of forgotten medications unearthed during a recent spring cleaning marathon sparked me to think of some great movie ideas. The potent painkiller that worked wonders on some excruciating back pain but wreaked havoc in my stomach could star in a rollicking love-hate farce (“Romancing the Kidney Stone”). Then there were the antidiarrheal pills that saved me on a motorcycle road trip with my husband (“Uneasy Rider”). And, of course, I’ll never forget the penicillin that triggered raging hives the day before my class reunion (“Rash Dance”).

According to Jeanne Caldwell, Pharm.D., ambulatory care pharmacist at Norton Brownsboro Hospital, any number of reasons can lead us to wind up with a collection of expired, unused or no-longer-needed medications.

“People can have completely unexpected adverse reactions. Sometimes they may stop taking medications because they think they’re all better,” said Caldwell. “You can develop an allergy anytime to an antibiotic that used to cause no problems at all.”

We all know medicines play a vital role in treating many health issues. We know, too, it’s critical to finish all antibiotics — misuse can build drug-resistant germs — and to take other medications as prescribed. When this is not possible, it’s important to get rid of unused or expired medications in a safe and environmentally responsible way.

Improper disposal of medications can put others at risk. Accidental ingestion of discarded prescription drugs can be dangerous, especially for children.

Ashley Webb, M.D., director, Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center of Norton Children’s Hospital, shares some striking information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reports that accidental poisoning, which includes ingesting medications, has become the No. 1 cause of overall unintentional injury deaths in the United States, surpassing deaths from motor vehicle accidents and firearms.

“Between 2000 and 2009, childhood deaths from poisoning rose 80 percent while deaths from all other injuries except suffocation fell,” said Dr. Webb.

Medicine take-back programs

Medicine take-back programs are a good way to dispose of  unused and outdated medicines and reduce the chance they may cause harm to others. Many community organizations, business groups and local government departments offer these events as a community service. The following are four ongoing drop-off options available in the Louisville area:

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department

531 Court Place

Drug drop-off box hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

St. Matthews City Hall

3940 Grandview Ave.

Drop-off service open Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays 1 to 5 p.m.

Shively Police Department

1800 Park Drive

24-hour drop-off box at headquarters office

Shepherdsville Police Department (Bullitt County, in City Hall)

634 Conestoga Parkway

Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

You can always check with your trash and recycling services to see what options they offer for safe medication disposal. Your pharmacist is a good resource for questions about whether it’s safe to use out-of-date medications and the best ways to dispose of them.

Other disposal options

Opinions are mixed about the best way to dispose of medications if no take-back programs are available. Because of potential environmental concerns, Caldwell agrees with those who caution not to wash medications down drains or toilets (unless directions with a specific medication recommend this). She advises using the following steps to dispose of most medicines in the household trash.

  • Mix medicines with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds. Do not crush tablets or capsules.
  • Place the mixture in a sealed container or plastic bag.
  • Throw the container in your household trash as close as possible to your scheduled pickup day.
  • Remove or destroy any identifying information from medicine containers you throw out.
  • Use the same safe disposal methods for over-the-counter drugs as for prescription medications.

Many medication take-back and recycling events are scheduled in spring and early summer. This is a prime time to “call it a wrap” for “grumpy old meds”. In the meantime, should  my great cinematic ideas draw the interest of some high-powered movie producers, I’ll have to have their people call my people since I’ll be busy tackling my junk drawer, closets and garage.


Norton Healthcare, in conjunction with several community partners, will offer an electronics and prescription drug recycling event Saturday, May 30, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Norton Children’s Medical Center, 4910 Chamberlain Lane (adjacent to Norton Brownsboro Hospital, near Costco).

We are partnering with the Louisville Metro Police Department to collect expired or unwanted prescription medications. Bring medications in original containers with the patient’s name on the label. Hospital staff will collect and safely dispose of them. Sorry, we cannot accept needles.

Bluegrass E-Cycle will collect the following items free of charge: Batteries, CDs, cellphones and telephones, computers, monitors, laptops, keyboards and circuit boards, copy and fax machines, DVD players, gaming devices and games, MP3 players, ink and toner cartridges, modems and routers, network ad server equipment, printers, satellite boxes, speakers and stereo equipment, and telecommunications equipment.

Televisions of all sizes will be accepted for a $15 charge. Please bring exact change.

This recycling opportunity is part of Norton Healthcare’s GoNgreen initiative.


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