Disposal for Patients
It is recommended that patients know how to safely dispose of unwanted or unused medications. Keeping leftover prescriptions, including controlled substance medications, may increase the risk of accidental poisonings and may lead to misuse or abuse of medications.
There are several reasons why prescription medications may build up over time; these include prescriptions received following an injury or hospitalization, side effects or drug interactions occurring when starting new medications, unused medications following the death of a family member or loved one, frequent dose changes, or simply not knowing what to do with leftover prescription drugs. Proper disposal of unwanted or unused medications will help protect our environment and decrease the risk of potential misuse and abuse of medications among our family and friends.
Below is a list of options to consider when trying to remove unwanted or unneeded pills from the home. Always check with your local pharmacy to determine what options are available in your community and for assistance in selecting the best disposal method.
This service is provided by law enforcement agencies to collect unneeded medications and is usually scheduled once in the spring and once in the fall. Community members are encouraged to bring any unwanted medications to a specific drop-off location for disposal in an environmentally safe manner. It is important to pay attention to the types of items accepted during these events. If interested in participating in a take-back event or searching for locations with ongoing services, visit the DEA Diversion Drug Disposal Information webpage. Take back events at tribal locations may not be listed, so it is important to check with local law enforcement agencies as well.
Many law enforcement facilities and pharmacies have permanently secured medication drop boxes within or near their location. Some drop boxes are only available during business hours and others are available 24 hours a day. In addition, each location may restrict the type of items accepted for disposal. The types of medications accepted include prescription and over-the-counter medications including ointments, creams, liquids, lotions, patches, and vitamins. Items that are not accepted include: needles, inhalers, aerosol cans, hydrogen peroxide, thermometers, and illicit drugs. MedSafe is one example of a medication disposal cabinet. Visit the DEA’s Controlled Substance Public Disposal Locations finder to locate the closest authorized collector.
This program allows the patient to send unwanted medications to a medication destruction facility via the U.S. mail. Patients can use a special sealed, tamper-evident envelope that is handed to a postal carrier or dropped off at a U.S. Post Office for delivery. This program is typically coordinated through a medical facility that can purchase the special pre-addressed mailing envelopes with prepaid postage.Once medications are received by the destruction facilities, they are incinerated. This type of program is convenient and allows for safe disposal of medications at any time.
The safest way to dispose of medications is via take-back events or by using a registered collector drop box. If unable to use these methods, follow the recommendations below for environmentally safe disposal.
Check the FDA website for a list of medications that are safe to flush down the toilet, and if the item is on the list, flush accordingly.
Steps to follow if medications are not on the “safe flush” list:
- Remove medication from original container
- Mix tablets or capsules that are not crushed or opened with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter, used coffee grounds or sawdust
- For liquid medications, mix with an absorbent material such as flour or cat litter
- Put the mixture into a disposable container with lid or a sealable bag
- Remove personal information from medication bottles, including the Rx number, by covering it with black permanent marker, duct tape or scratching it off
- Place the sealed container or bag with the unwanted medications and the empty medicine containers in the trash
For more information on these methods, please visit the FDA website on using medicine safely.