Prescription Drug Disposal

Unused or expired prescription medications are a public safety issue, leading to accidental poisoning, overdose, and abuse. The public is urged to safely drop off unused prescription drugs at public disposal locations. Saving unused or expired medications can lead to improper and illegal use if they fall into the wrong hands. A safer solution is to immediately dispose of all prescription and over-the-counter medicine as soon as it expires or when it is no longer needed.

Before discarding any medicine, review any specific disposal instructions from your healthcare provider. Follow any directions provided and contact your healthcare provider or pharmacist with any disposal questions. Before disposing of any bottles or medication packaging, make sure all personal information has been removed including name and prescription number.

Drug Take-Back Sites

The best way to dispose of most types of unused or expired medicines is to drop off the medicine at a drug take-back site, location, or program immediately.  The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) collects and safely disposes of all medications dropped off at all drug take-back sites. The DEA maintains a list of permanent collection sites on the Diversion Control Division website, or residents can call 1-800-882-9539 for assistance locating a collection point.

Before disposing of prescription medicines, be sure to remove all personal information on bottle labels and medicine packaging. All medicines dropped off at the take-back locations will be destroyed, including medicines that contain controlled substances.

The DEA also hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events in April and October. Visit DEATakeBack.com for participating collection sites. The next National Drug Take-Back event is on April 24 from 10am-2pm. 

Home Disposal of Medications

If it is not possible to dispose of medications at a permanent collection site, check the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) flush list to see if your medicine should be flushed. Medicines on the flush list are sought-after for their misuse and/or abuse potential and can result in death from one dose if inappropriately taken.

Only flush medicine if unable to reach a permanent collection site and it is on the flush list. Products on the flush list include drugs that contain opioids, including drugs that contain the word fentanyl or hydrocodone, as well as certain other drugs. Remove the flush-listed medicine from all packaging and flush the medicine down the sink or toilet. Remove all personal information from the packaging before recycling it. 

If your medication is not on the flush list and does not have any specific disposal instructions in the medication guide or package insert, you can follow these steps to dispose of most medicines in your trash at home:

  1. Mix medicines (liquid or pills, do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unappealing substance such as dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds;
  2. Place is the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag;
  3. Throw away the container in your trash at home; and
  4. Remove and destroy all personal information on the prescription label of empty medicine bottles or medicine packaging before disposing of it.

Additional Resources

Please visit the following websites for additional information on safe disposal of unused or expired medications:

CDC - Your Prescription Medicine: Tips for Safe Storage and Disposal
DEA - Drug Disposal Information
DEA - Get Smart About Drugs
FDA - Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know