Safe disposal of prescription medications

Unused medications should be disposed of as soon as possible. The best way to dispose of most types of unused or expired medicines (including controlled substances and opioids) is to drop off the medicine at a drug take back site, location or program immediately. You can also dispose of many medicines at home if a drug take back option is not available to you. 

Drug take back programs

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) allows unused prescription medications to be mailed back to pharmacies and other authorized sites using packages made available at such sites. The DEA sponsors National Prescription Drug Take Back Day in communities nationwide. Many communities also have their own drug take back programs.

You can also find more information about National Prescription Drug Take Back Day and local collection sites by visiting www.deatakeback.com. For a direct link to a collection site search engine, visit https://apps2.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubdispsearch/spring/main?execution=e2s1.

How to dispose of medicines at home

When a take back option is not readily available, there are two ways to dispose of medicines, depending on the drug.

Flushing medicines: Some especially harmful medicines have specific directions to immediately flush them down the sink or toilet when they are no longer needed, and a take back option is not readily available.

To find out if you should flush your medicines, check the label or patient information leaflet with your medicine or consult the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing when a take back option is not readily available. If your medicine can be flushed, it is recommended that you first check with local authorities about community disposal requirements. Do not flush your medicine unless it is on the flush list found at: www.fda.gov/drugs/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know/drug-disposal-fdas-flush-list-certain-medicines.

Disposing of medicines in the trash: If a take back program is not available, almost all medicines–except those on the FDA flush list–can be thrown away in the trash. These include prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as pills, liquids, drops, patches, and creams.

Follow the steps below to be sure that you are disposing of your medicines properly:

  1. Remove the drugs from their original containers and mix them with something undesirable, such as used coffee grounds, dirt, or cat litter.
  2. Put the mixture in something you can close (a re-sealable zipper storage bag, empty can, or other container) to prevent the drug from leaking or spilling out and throw the container in the garbage.
  3. Scratch out all your personal information on the empty medicine packaging to protect your identity and privacy. Throw the packaging away.

You can find more information online about the best methods for the safe disposal of drugs from the United States Department of Health and Human Services at the following web address: www.hhs.gov/opioids/prevention/safely-dispose-drugs/index.html. If you have a question about your medicine, ask your health care provider or pharmacist.


 

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The information on this page was last updated on 1/1/2022.

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