Returning Unused Medications to the Pharmacy? Here’s What to Do

Posted June 3, 2020 by Michael Chamberlain - See Editorial Guidelines

It’s common for many of us to see our cabinets full of unused medications. But what do we do in with unused medications that are expired or aren’t right for us? The thought of how to safely get rid of any unused medications often confounded some of us, and we don’t always consider returning unused medications!

We might consider ways like flushing medications, throwing them in the garbage, or just plain ignoring them to mount up. All of these methods of disposal have their downsides or can simply be unsafe.

Returning Unused Medications to the Pharmacy

You may not be aware that you can return unused medications to the pharmacy. So, this article will provide you with a clearer understanding of how unused medications can be returned to the pharmacy, as well as what pharmacies do with these medications. 

But first, here’s the quick answer, then we’ll get into more details.

Can you return unused medication to the pharmacy? Unused and unexpired or expired medications can be returned to pharmacies who accept them. Separate the dry and wet medications when returning and remove all personal identifications from them. Put tablets and pills in a container or a bag and leave gels, liquids, and creams in their original container.

Now we’ve seen the quick summary answer of what you can and can’t do, let’s get into the details about returning medications to the pharmacy, starting with how we can do that.

How to Return Unused Medications To The Pharmacy

Firstly, it’s essential to remove all of your personal identification details from any unused or expired medications.

Then, afterward, it’s a good practice to separate the medications based on their categories—for example, separate tablets, gel pills, and liquid medications. So, put all the dry medications such as pills and tablets in one bag or container. Then it’s best to leave all the other liquids, creams, gels, and even inhalers in their original containers or packaging. 

After separating and getting the medications ready for returning, find a pharmacy that accepts unused or expired medications.

In general, by law, all the pharmacies should accept unused medications that patients return. However, due to certain disposal system unavailability and other lack of access, not all pharmacies will be willing to accept unused or expired medications.

So, it might be a good move to find a nearby pharmacy that accepts unused medications.

The process of taking or accepting unused medications is called “drug take-back programs.” This take-back program can also be organized or held by other specific professionals and approved authorities.

In the event you can’t find a drug take-back program where it’s possible to visit a pharmacy and give the unused medications back physically, there are still other ways in which such take-back programs can work. The following are a few methods by which drug take-back programs can work, that may not necessarily involve visiting a pharmacy. 

  • Ongoing drop-off programs – This is usually held by a pharmacy or a law enforcement office.
  • One-day collection events – This is a program held within a community, where all unused or expired medications can be collected and then submitted to a pharmacy that collects them all together. This is mostly carried out in communities where pharmacies that have take-back programs are fewer in number.
  • Mail-back programs – You can mail back unused medications, following the specific requirements of packaging and so on.
  • Combinations – Use a mix of the above methods to return your unused medications.

We should reiterate that not all pharmacies accept expired or unused medications. So, that brings us to the question, which pharmacies do accept unused medications?

Unused Medications Accepted by Pharmacies 

Pharmacies by law are required to accept only the following unused or expired medications:

  • Prescription drugs 
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Natural health products

Pharmacies do not accept the following as part of their drug take-back program: 

  • Empty medication bottle and containers 
  • Cosmetics, herbal or beauty products
  • Sharps, needles, or syringes

Here’s a quick table that also outlines what medications can commonly be returned to a pharmacy.

Medication Disposal List

Returning Unused Medications

Exceptions may apply, check with your local pharmacy collection point.

So, now the next common question many have is what happens to these medications once you’ve returned them?

What Happens to Unused Medications Returned to the Pharmacy?

Returning Unused Medications to the Pharmacy

It’s a commonly held myth that all expired medications that are returned to the pharmacy cannot be reused and are simply disposed of or incinerated.

There are rare exceptions that allow unused medications to be reused. We will cover this below. 

Reusing Medications

Although this is a somewhat controversial topic, many healthcare professionals believe reusing or putting back returned medications into stock can be dangerous.

One reason why pharmacies are not allowed to reuse returned medications (that are not expired) is that the pharmacists would no longer be able to assure the quality, purity, or strength of the drug for the time that the medication was not under the pharmacy’s care. 

For one, medications must be stored in the right storage conditions, away from heat and moisture.

So, when medications are returned that have not yet expired, a pharmacist can never be 100% sure if they’ve been kept in under the right conditions. Therefore, the medications may not be safe for an individual to take. 

Because of this reason alone, many pharmacies are unable to re-stock them. This is to safeguard the health of the general public. And if any pharmacist or doctor dispenses such medications, they are deemed to be legally responsible for any possible hazardous outcomes that may arise.

Some investigations have shown that such practice of reselling returned medications by pharmacists has been responsible for dangerous health affecting results.

Reuse Exceptions

However, disposing of all such unused, unexpired medications could be beneficial if it holds the right conditions and quality.

So, because of this, in the United States, there are a few exceptions on whose returned and unexpired medications can be used for selling to potential patients who deserve them. This process is seen as donating medications for them to be transferred or dispensed.

Only professionally designated people are allowed to make donations of medications, which will then be reused and given to potential patients. Even if these eligible people are donating medications, certain conditions still have to be met for the donation of their medications to be accepted.

Some of these common conditions are as follows:

  • No controlled substances are accepted.
  • No adulterated or misbranded medication is accepted.
  • A pharmacist must check all pharmaceuticals before dispensing them to patients.
  • All pharmaceuticals must not be expired at the time of receipt and should have a minimum number of months before the expiration.
  • All donated medications must be unopened and in sealed, tamper-evident packaging when donating. This means that pills in opened or partly opened bottles or containers are never accepted.
  • Some conditions would require the donor to fill out some forms.
  • The donor cannot expect or be given any financial compensation for the donation – financial compensation is prohibited.

To Close

We hope this has given you some guidance on whether you can return unused medications to the pharmacy, how to do it, and what happens to it after being returned.

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