Dispose of Unused Medications Properly

Various pills

Various pills (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my readers asked me about the proper disposal of unused or expired medications.  Great question!

There are two main reasons proper disposal is so important.  One, you don’t want children, teenagers, pets or others to get their hands on unused prescriptions or over the counter medications which can be harmful to their health or even deadly. Secondly, if medication is poured down the drain, flushed in the toilet, or simply thrown away, it will filter into the groundwater and end up in lakes and streams.  Though the effects on marine life, aquatic life and human life are unknown, it has opened the door for much-needed study.  According to disposemymeds.org, “A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans.”

The best way to dispose of unused medications is to take them to community sponsored “Take Back” days or hazardous waste collection days.  The Drug Enforcement Administration along with state and local law enforcement agencies sponsors National Prescription Drug Take Back Days throughout the country.  According to the FDA, over 1.5 million pounds of medication have been removed from circulation since the program started.

Many police stations have a receptacle where you can take unused medications on an ongoing basis. You can also ask your pharmacy or doctor’s office; some have receptacles for disposal.  Check the disposemymeds.org search option to find a pharmacy with a take back program near you.

If absolutely no take back program is available in your area and no instructions for proper disposal are on the label, do not flush them down the toilet.  Instead throw them away using the following guidelines.

  • Take them out of their containers and mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter to make them less appealing to children, pets or someone who may be going through trash.
  • Put them in a sealable bag to prevent leakage or breakage in the trash.
  • Mark out all personal information on the container before recycling.

To avoid having to dispose of unused medications, get just what you need rather than a long-term supply;  medications and prescriptions often change.  The above tips apply to pet medications too!

Information compiled from www.fda.gov/drugs, http://www.medicinenet.com, and www.Disposemymeds.org.




4 responses to this post.

  1. As a professional organizer, this topic comes up with some frequency. I clicked on the pharmacy locations in my area, and was disappointed to learn I would have to drive over 20 miles (40 round trip) to dispose of my expired medications. I hope pharmacies will improve this service, or sadly medications will continue to pollute our waters.

    Our community does have a toxic waste disposal program, which might be my next best bet. I wish I had a more convenient option to recommend to clients.

    Great info as always, Betsy. I plan to share it on my professional Facebook page.


    • Thanks for commenting. I clicked on disposemymeds.org too and there was no pharmacy near me that took back the unused meds. I called the police station in our town however, and they do have a receptacle. Maybe yours does too. If not, ask them where you can dispose of medications. That is how change happens!


      • This is a really good idea. I just assumed they would only take back narcotics. I know when my mom passed, the hospice nurse was required to take all of her remaining morphine and destroy it on site. She dissolved it in water, and then I’m guessing put it into a hazardous waste container. I’ll check with my local police department, and I’ll let you know.

    • Yes, please do. Thanks…


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