Sunday, September 10, 2023

Can I give away my unused prescription drugs?

Where do you draw the line at offering a favor to a friend?

A reader we’re calling Linda had been taking prescription medication for her high blood pressure for almost a year.

At first the medication seemed to work to keep her blood pressure at the level for which her physician hoped.

But for the past several weeks, her blood pressure had been inching up and, after a visit to her physician, he changed her prescription to a different medication to see if it would have better results.

Linda and a neighborhood friend we’re calling Winnie had compared notes while at a recent book club meeting about the various prescription medications they were taking. It turned out Winnie had been prescribed the same blood pressure medication that wasn’t working so well for Linda, but had been working just fine for Winnie for several years.

After Linda picked up the prescription for her new medication, she checked and found that the vial with the old prescription still had several dozen pills in it.

Figuring it would be a waste to simply toss out the old prescription, it crossed Linda’s mind that perhaps it would be OK to offer the remaining pills to Winnie. She knew Winnie’s doctor would only renew her prescription so many times before he insisted she come in for a checkup. Linda also knew Winnie hated to go to the doctor.

So why not share the remaining pills?

“Would that be OK to do?” Linda asked.

No. That would not be OK to do.

While her intentions might be to be helpful and avoid waste, sharing prescription drugs violates state and federal laws. If Winnie accepted any such offer — and she should not, repeat not — she would be breaking the law for possessing and taking a prescription intended for someone else.

(Full disclosure: I am not a lawyer, but you can look this up for yourself.)

In addition to the legal consequences, while Linda may believe she’d be doing Winnie a favor, but neither Linda’s expertise nor Winnie’s is to determine how much or what type of medication someone else might need. In an effort to do a friend a solid, Linda might be causing more harm to Winnie than good.

It’s good to avoid waste, but with rare exception, it’s not easy to donate prescription medication that has already been open or is expired.

Still, there are organizations that try to help avoid the waste. The social enterprise Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine (SIRUM) has a helpful website ( that guides organizations and people wanting to donate unopened or unexpired medication legally and safely to people who might not be able to afford to pay for the medications they are prescribed.

There’s likely a good reason Winnie’s doctor wants to see her in person to decide if the medication he has prescribed is still effective. If Linda wants to be a good friend to Winnie, she can offer to drive her to her physician and sit with her while she is waiting to be seen. But the right thing is to never offer your own prescribed drugs to anyone else.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy, emeritus, at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin


No comments: