How to Dispose of Unused Medications

Medications are an important part of treating many conditions and diseases and when they are no longer needed it is important to dispose of them properly to help reduce harm from accidental exposure or intentional misuse. Below are some options and instructions for you to consider when disposing of expired, unwanted, or unused medications.

If disposing of medication by yourself, be sure you always follow the disposal instructions on the prescription label or in the accompanying patient information. Do not flush medications down the sink or in the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so. When in doubt about proper disposal, you can contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at 1-888-INFO-FDA.

Prescription Disposal Locations

Community-based prescription disposal programs are often the best option. These programs allow the public to take unused medications to a central location for proper disposal. Local law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) often host such programs. You may also contact your city/county government’s household trash and recycling service for medication disposal options and guidelines for your area. To find a disposal location near you, visit Prescription Disposal Locations Near our Clinic or the Pharmaceutical Take-Back Location Finder.

Disposal in the Household Trash

If your community does not sponsor a prescription disposal program and no specific instructions are given, you can follow these steps to throw the medication in your household trash:

  • Remove the medication from its original container and mix it (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an undesirable substance such as cat litter, dirt, or used coffee grounds – This makes the medication less appealing to children/pets and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through the trash looking for drugs.
  • Place the mixture in a sealable bag or container to prevent the medication from leaking  or breaking out of the garbage bag.
  • Throw the container in the trash.
  • Scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label so it is unreadable – This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.
  • Dispose of the original prescription container.

Flushing Certain Medications

A small number of medications may be especially dangerous or fatal with just one dose if taken by someone other than the person for whom it was prescribed.  To prevent accidental ingestion of these medications by children, or pets, it is recommended that these medications be disposed of quickly through a disposal location. If one is not available in your area, it is recommended you flush them down the sink or in the toilet as soon as they are no longer needed. Do not dispose of medications in this manner unless specifically instructed to do so by this information.View the FDA’s list of Medications Recommended for Disposal by Flushing to see if this method is right for your medication.

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