Disposing of Medication:

What are the options?

Posted on 7/15/2011

Last reviewed on 09/06/2013

Many of us don't think twice when it comes to throwing away old, unused, or expired prescription medications.  When disposing of medication, certain safety precautions should be taken to avoid harm to others who could come into contact with the discarded medication.  Proper medicine disposal will protect you and others in your home from consuming harmful medications, including pets, children, and anyone else who might find medicines in your trash, and can help prevent prescription drug abuse.

At least once a year, you should check the labels and contents of all of your medications. Medications that you are no longer taking, or have a change in color, smell, or texture, should be disposed of properly.

Steps to Proper Disposal

Don't know how to properly dispose of medication?  The first step is to contact your local waste management facility for your specific community's regulations. If the facility doesn't have particular policies, read and follow the disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that comes with the medication.  If no special instructions are given on the medication label, the FDA suggests the following disposal guidelines:

  • Take the medication out of its original container and remove, or cross out, personal information from the container label.
  • Mix medications with kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds, or another substance that will absorb them and make them undesirable.
  • Put the mixture into a sealable plastic bag or bottle with a screw-on lid so no leaking occurs, and place in the trash.

The FDA recommends flushing only if the medication has instructions to do so.  Visit the FDA's website for a list of medications that need disposal by flushing, click here.

Drug Take-Back Programs

Another disposal option is community drug take-back programs. These programs allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government's household trash and recycling service (see blue pages in phone book) or check with your pharmacy to see if a take-back program is available in your community.  Look for future Smart-Health Insights announcing national take-back programs.

Source: "How to Dispose of Unused Medicines." http://www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/consumers/buyingusingmedicinesafely/ensuringsafeuseofmedicine/safedisposalofmedicines/ucm186187.htm#Overview.  Accessed July 24, 2013.  FDA.