Disposing of unused medications

You may find yourself with unused medications for a variety of reasons. For example, your doctor could make a change to your prescription, or you may have medications that have expired.

How do you properly dispose of those medications? You have three options.

Donate them using repository programs

In the U.S., some states have programs for medication redistribution. Many of these are conducted at the facility level, allowing pharmacies and nursing homes, for example, to find alternatives to destroying usable medications.

However, some states have drug repository programs that will accept medications from individuals, as long as the medications are in their original sealed and tamper-evident packaging (such as blister-cards) and won’t expire in the near future. Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin are three of the states that have such programs. You can search online to see if your state has a similar program. Note that these programs cannot accept controlled substances, which include some pain, sleep, and anxiety medications.

Safely dispose of them using medication take-back programs

Take-back programs are a great way to safely dispose of expired or excess medications. In my area, there are drop-off containers at many police stations. Other locales in the U.S. use boxes from the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (with its Rx Drug Drop Box) or MedReturn, which have box locator functions on their websites. Some pharmacies also accept medications.

You can also search for medications at Earth911 to find a disposal site near you. And you could check with your trash/recycling service provider to see what options are available in your area. The Drug Enforcement Agency, along with local law enforcement organizations, holds National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days.

Other countries such as Canada and Australia also have take-back programs.

Safely dispose of them at home

The FDA has instructions on how to safely dispose of medications as part of your household trash if no better option is available:

  • Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds.
  • Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
  • Throw the container 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.

The FDA also provides a short list of medications that can be especially harmful if used by anyone other than the person for whom they were prescribed. If these specific medicines cannot be disposed of quickly using a take-back program, the FDA recommends flushing them down the toilet as soon as they are no longer needed. Specific disposal information may have come with the medicine, but the FDA also links to that information if you don’t have it. This is the only time when flushing is recommended. In general, flushing is strongly discouraged for reasons that the Environmental Protection Agency explains (PDF).

7 Comments for “Disposing of unused medications”

  1. posted by infmom on

    Check to see if your city has a hazardous-waste recycling program (mine does). They may accept medications for safe disposal.

  2. posted by Sandra on

    In Canada, we take all unused meds back to the pharmacy for disposal.

  3. posted by MJ Ray on

    In England, we take all unused meds back to any NHS pharmacy for disposal. See the last question on http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Pha.....tions.aspx

  4. posted by Mike Carlson on

    So grateful and bless to read post about Disposing of unused medications. It’s very great help for me. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  5. posted by Martin on

    Flushing medicin down the toilet, or trowing them in the trash, is a horrible idea! A lot of medicine contain very, very potent chemicals that can do harm to animals and cause environmental hazards. Antibiotics disposed of in the sewage system or in the trash can increase the evolution of multi resistant bacteria, contraceptives cause fishes to change sex (and possibly become incapable of reproducing). If there is no pharmacy or other place to turn the medications in for destruction, it is better to store them in the closet until one is able to go somewhere where they take the medicine. The FDA really need to update it’s environmental thinking!

    In Sweden all pharmacies are required by law to take back old medicine and needles (used by diabetics and alike). Medicine has to be turned in in clear plastic bags for safety reasons, and needles must be put in special containers available freely at the pharmacies. I’m pretty sure it is also illegal to flush medicine down the toilet, though I have a hard time imagining anyone actually getting caught.

  6. posted by Jeff Heydanek on

    Try http://www.medsafedisposal.com. There are a couple low cost alternatives such as ours for mail in disposal.

  7. posted by rrr on


    National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day
    September 26, 2015; 10AM to 2PM

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