Safe Disposal of Medications

Billions of medications are prescribed each year in the United States. And even more over-the-counter drugs are purchased yearly.  Therefore, it is important to properly dispose of all medications which are no longer used or have expired. This will reduce the potential of harm not only to yourself but also help avoid exposing others to possible risk and danger through misuse.

In addition, disposing medications the wrong way may negatively impact the environment and public health. Levels of medications have been measured in soil, waterways, and oceans which can upset the ecosystems of marine and animal life. And many medications cannot be removed completely from wastewater treatment plants or septic systems.

Best Ways to Dispose Medications


  • Take-back programs. Most major pharmacies have medication take-back programs. For example, in July 2016, Walgreens, one of the national’s largest drugstore retailers, began the installation of 600 safe medication disposal kiosks at its pharmacies located across the country. In less than one year from the program’s launch, Walgreens collected and safely disposed of 72 tons of medication. The kiosks are conveniently located at the retailer’s pharmacies and are available during regular store hours (many are open 24 hours a day). Many chain and specialty pharmacies also offer prepaid, addressed envelopes to mail-back drugs. Check with your regular pharmacy to find out what types of medication take-back programs are available in your area.
  • Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) controlled substance public disposal location. This site provides a list of DEA-approved locations which will take back medications. Click on the link below to find a DEA disposal location near you.
  • Disposal at home. If you are unable to use a take-back program, the FDA suggests the following steps to properly dispose of your medications at home: First, mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds. Then place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag and throw it in your household trash. Scratch out all personal information on the prescription label of your empty pill bottle or empty medicine packaging to make it unreadable, then dispose of the container.
  • Flushing medications. It is best not to flush medications down the toilet with certain exceptions. If a medicine take-back program or DEA disposal location is not available in your area, the FDA then recommends flushing potentially fatal medications down the toilet. These drugs include fentanyl, diazepam, methadone, morphine, and oxycodone which can be harmful or even fatal if ingested by people or pets.
  • Expired medications. In 1979 a law was passed which required drug manufacturers to stamp an expiration date on all products. A study was recently commissioned by the U.S. military to determine if expired drugs needed to be thrown away. With a large stockpile of medications, the military wanted to determine if it was necessary to dispose of the drugs. The study found that 90% of more than 100 prescription and over-the-counter drugs were still safe to use 15 years after the expiration date. Before continuing to take expired medications talk with your pharmacist. Certain drugs may not offer 100% potency.


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