Medication Safety & Disposal

​Brandi Jacobs, PharmD with Vanderbilt Medical Group, speaks with Occupational Health about prescription medication safety and proper medication disposal.

Local resources:

How to Dispose of Medication Properly

Unused or Expired Pharmaceutical Disposal Locations

Begin Transcript

Tanicia Haynes:  Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health & Wellness wellcast.  I am Tanicia Haynes with Occupational Health.  Today we’re speaking with PharmD Brandi Jacobs, a staff pharmacist with Vanderbilt Medical Group about medication safety. Hi Brandi.

Brandi Jacobs: Hi Tanicia.

Tanicia Haynes: Thank you for coming in today.

Brandi Jacobs: Thank you for having me.

Tanicia Haynes:  It is the time of the year that people do spring cleaning and a lot of people keep the medicine cabinet with prescriptions that they have previously been prescribed.  Is there a reason why it is important to clean out this medicine cabinet?

Brandi Jacobs:  You want to clean out your medicine cabinet for several reasons.  There is always drug duplications.  A lot of times people end up getting started on several drugs and they all do the same thing.  We want to make sure you are not duplicating the same medications, that you are on your correct dose, and just ensuring that you have everything that you need easy at your fingertips.  Another reason to clean out your medicine cabinet is for drug diversion.  A lot of people don't realize that Tennessee is one of the highest-ranked states for drug diversion and drug theft.  We have people who have caregivers in their home, children in the home ... we want to make sure you are keeping your medicines locked up somewhere safe, and that you know exactly what you have down to the numbers.  I've gotten calls from people with family members that have taken medications, home health has taken medications, so it is super important to always know of what you are taking and then to get rid of those things that you are no longer taking.  It is also important to clean out your  cabinet to keep things safe from children.  If you have young children in the home, you don't want them to have easy access to your drugs.  So, this is just another reason to make sure that you are keeping your medicine cabinet as concise, the area clean,  the temperature is correct, and that you are always checking to make sure that those conditions are met to keep your drugs stable.

Tanicia Haynes:  How often do you typically suggest that people check their meds?

Brandi Jacobs:   That would vary from person to person.  For myself, I am not on a lot of medications.  I may take multivitamins.  So, for me, it would be once a year I would clean it out.  For a person who has polypharmacy, who has several drug conditions, I would say every six months.  More often than not, that is how often you go to a doctor, and so that is when some of those medication changes occur.  So, you want to also just keep sure that you are taking your meds to the doctor with you so that they can look at those drugs and they are telling you what you are not taking and what you are still on, and then getting rid of those drugs that you are no longer taking anymore.  It serves no purpose to really hoard those drugs.  That is something I really want people to get away from is holding on to drugs that they are no longer taking.

Tanicia Haynes:  Say I go to the dentist and I get some work done and they give me some antibiotics.  Is there a safety risk with me taking those antibiotics later if I, like, feel like I've got a sinus infection that's coming on?

Brandi Jacobs:  So, antibiotics - they are definitely one that we have to keep stored correctly.  We have to get rid of those as soon as they expire.  There is a thing called the post antibiotic effect.  So, if those drugs are no longer any good, if they are out of date, then those can actually make you sicker than what you may have started with.  Another issue is not every drug treats every bug.  So,  we want to ensure that we are on the correct antibiotic.  You don't want to develop resistance, and resistance is when you take a drug and you didn't need it, and then they can't actually treat the bug that they need to because you have built up a resistance to it due to the taking those antibiotics.  So, those are some of the reasons we want to just be careful with antibiotics.

Tanicia Haynes:  With the antibiotics, if my mom has a sinus infection and then I get a sinus infection, so I know I took an antibiotic for a sinus infection, what is wrong with me just taking my mom's antibiotic?

Brandi Jacobs:  Well, we don't know your mom's preexisting conditions.  Her allergies may be different than yours.  She may have a different strain of the same sinus infection.  We always just want to make sure we are taking things under a doctor's care, and that is so important, rather than self-medicating.  It is so important because you can also cause something worse to happen in the long-run.  So, it is just easier - let me just go to the doctor and get my own set of drugs versus digging in mom's medicine cabinet.

Tanicia Haynes:    Now, if I have medications that I need to get rid of in my medicine cabinet, do you guys have a place, or is there somewhere that you know of that I can bring medications to?

Brandi Jacobs:  So, there are several things that you can do.  Vanderbilt has drop-off locations throughout the hospital near the retail pharmacies.  Most people think you can just return drugs back to retail pharmacies, like your local CVS or Rite-Aid.  You can't.  They cannot take those medicines back legally.  Once the med goes out the door, a pharmacist cannot take your medications back.  Your doctors also cannot take your medications back.  What we recommend is - if you need to get rid of something at home, to just mix it in with coffee grinds, or dirt, or kitty litter.  Mix it in, put it in a plastic bag, and then dispose of it that way.  You can also make sure that you cross off any name or personal information on your drug labels.  That is a good way to get rid of things.  Then, the DEA also partners with the police stations to do a drug take-back program.    It is  online, and a lot of pharmacies post the date because they know people are so interested in - how can I get rid of these medications safety?  So, those are a few ways to get rid of your drugs.

Tanicia Haynes:  Well, thank you so much for talking with us.  I think that was very informative.

Brandi Jacobs:  Well, thank you for having me.

Tanicia Haynes:  Thanks for listening.  If you have a story suggestion, please email it to us at or you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website at