Medication Disposal Guide

Do you have medicines that you no longer need or use? If so, how should you get rid of them? “Take-back” programs are the best way to get rid of medicines. Otherwise, most medicines can be thrown in the trash, after you take certain steps. A few medicines should be flushed down the toilet instead. Here are some tips for disposing of medicines.

  • Use a take-back program, where you bring medicines to a location for disposal. Check with your local police department to find one near you. Some pharmacies may also have mail-back programs and disposal kiosks for unused meds. Call 800-882-9539 to find one or ask your pharmacist. The website http://disposemymeds.org/medicine-disposal-locator/ will help you find independent pharmacies with medication disposal programs in your area.
  • Follow disposal instructions on the drug label or in the patient information that comes with your medicine. Don’t flush medicines down the toilet unless this information says to. It can be bad for the environment. However, some medicines such as fentanyl patches or strong pain pills should be flushed down the toilet if a take-back program isn’t available. They can be deadly when misused. Check with your pharmacist if you are unsure.
  • Throw the medicine in the trash if disposal instructions aren’t given and you can’t find a take-back program in your area. But first:
    1. Take it out of its original container.
    2. Mix it with used coffee grounds, dirt, or kitty litter. This will have less appeal to kids and pets. Plus, people going through trash are less likely to see the medicine.
    3. Put the mixture in a bag, empty can, or other container that you can seal. This will prevent it from leaking out of a garbage bag.
    4. Place the container in the trash.

More Tips

  • Scratch out your name and personal details on the label before throwing out a medicine container. This will protect your privacy and your health information.
  • Don’t give your medicines to family or friends. A medicine that works for you could harm someone else.
  • Follow the same steps above to dispose of over-the-counter medicines.
  • Be aware that puncturing or throwing aerosols and inhalers into a fire is dangerous.
  • Don’t toss needles into the trash or recycle. Put them in a strong plastic container that can be sealed. Follow your state’s rules for disposing of the container. Find your state’s rules at https://safeneedledisposal.org/.
  • Ask your pharmacist if you aren’t sure how to dispose of a medicine.

The above information is adapted from the May 2019, FDA consumer health article concerning the disposal of unused drugs. The full article, Where and How to Dispose of Unused Medicines, is available at https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/where-and-how-dispose-unused-medicines. Additional information is available from the DEA at https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/fact_sheets/disposal_public _06222018.pdf.

[This handout may not cover all possible information. It does not replace the need for professional medical care. Always follow the instructions from your healthcare provider.] [June 2019; 350626]

Related Articles