What to Do with Extra or Expired Diabetes Supplies + Meds
Editor’s Note: People who take insulin require consistently affordable and predictable sources of insulin at all times. If you or a loved one are struggling to afford or access insulin, you can build custom plans based on your personal circumstances through our tool, GetInsulin.org.
If you have extra or expired diabetes supplies or medications, there are a few things you should know before donating them or tossing them in the garbage!
The first thing you should know is that the United States has strict laws around donating medications. The second thing you should know is that many people struggle to afford their diabetes medications and supplies, so your donations could save someone’s life, and finding out how to donate or dispose of expired medications in your area is worth the effort!
Let’s take a closer look at the ways you can donate extra medications and supplies, or how to safely dispose of them if they’re expired.
Donating in the USA versus donating to other countries
Deciding where you plan to donate your diabetes supplies matters because different organizations serve different populations: within or outside of the U.S.
- Donating to people in the U.S.: The National Conference of State Legislatures advises contacting trusted organizations that can help you determine whether you can donate your medications and how. During crises—like after a hurricane or other natural disasters—some laws are suspended temporarily and donations can go to folks within the country through an organization that would normally donate to those living outside of the U.S.
- Outside of the USA: A well-known organization in the diabetes space is Insulin For Life, which accepts diabetes medication and supplies donations to regions in need. Insulin For Life and Life for a Child help people in underserved countries across the globe get access to the insulin and testing supplies they need to survive. Because of U.S. law, the majority of the time, these donations go to people in need living with diabetes outside of the country with the exception of a crisis, as explained above.
Determine your state’s guidelines for drug repository donations
A drug repository donation is the donation of unused or discontinued medications and supplies to a participating pharmacy or medical facility. These donations are distributed appropriately to help those in need. To determine your state’s laws regarding drug repository donations, reference the National Conference of State Legislatures’ map of Prescription Drug Donation and Reuse State Programs.
To date, states with programs enacted into law that are operational include Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Of the states with operational programs and enacted laws, only California, Florida, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin accept cancer drugs.
Other states and the U.S. territories either have no current laws or programs or enacted laws but no operational programs.
The impact of donating your surplus medications or supplies
By donating surplus medication, you can help save countless lives. Donations may also help prevent improper medication disposal that can lead to children, pets or adults taking medicines they shouldn’t by sifting through garbage.
Diabetes is still one of the most expensive chronic illnesses in the United States, costing an average of 800 percent more in the U.S. than in other developed economies. Though people with diabetes make up 10 percent of the population, they make up 25 percent of healthcare spending each year. The American Diabetes Association reports the national cost of diabetes in the U.S. in 2017 was more than $327 billion, up from $245 billion in 2012.
U.S. News reports, that as of December 2021, 13 million Americans go without medication every year due to high price tags—a statistic that includes 2.3 million Americans on Medicare and 3.8 million with private insurance. More alarmingly, a 2020 study from West Health predicted as many as 1.1 million deaths among Medicare patients due to skipping medications because of a lack of affordability.
Donation centers typically don’t accept open or expired medications. Certain expiration dates may also not meet various program eligibility, such as if the expiration date on medication is within a week at the time you hand it in but the amount of medication you are attempting to donate should last more than a week.
Every donation center that is able to accept diabetes supplies or medications should be able to clarify what can be donated in your region.
Disposing of expired meds or meds that can’t be donated
If you need to dispose of any expired medications, every state has different rules and regulations. If your medication is ineligible to be donated in your state, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has concise guidance on disposing of expired medications:
- To flush or not flush: Depending on your state guidelines, some medications may be flushed down the toilet. Others may be harmful. Get the list of flushable medications here. Do not flush your medications unless they are on this list or if your region advises against flushing medications due to potential hazards like water contamination.
- Safe to put in the garbage: If your state does not offer a drug take-back program, most medicines (except those found on the FDA’s flush list), can be thrown in the trash. Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs in pill, liquid, drop, patch and cream forms may be thrown away. To properly throw away your medications, follow these steps from the FDA:
- Remove your drugs from their original containers and mix them with dirt, coffee grounds or cat litter (something that is unappealing to children and pets that won’t be easily recognized by anyone sifting through the trash looking for drugs).
- Put the mixture in a closable container to avoid spillage or leaking, such as a zipper storage bag, empty coffee can or something of the like.
- Throw your sealed container in the garbage.
- Scratch your personal information off of your empty medicine package to conceal your privacy and then throw it away.
If you have questions about how to dispose of your medicine, talk to your local pharmacist, healthcare provider or your state’s department of health services. You can also search for drug disposal containers near you via the U.S. Department of Justice’s Controlled Substance Public Disposal Locations-Search Utility.