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Blog Post | April 22, 2019

How to Dispose of Unused or Expired Medication

Hopefully you’ve read Prescription Opioids 101 to learn how to identify what’s in your medicine cabinet, and are hopefully now trying to figure out how to dispose of your unused or expired medications.

According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends – often from the home medicine cabinet. By getting rid of prescriptions you no longer need, you help prevent the spread of substance use disorder and the potential of unnecessary overdose deaths.

Solution #1: National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is April 27th.

But, that doesn’t mean you need to wait until then. In addition, if you miss Take Back Day, you still have options. To find a safe disposal location near you, visit the DEA’s site search page and enter your zip code or county, city, and state for the location nearest you.

In 2018, the DEA collected unused, unwanted or expired prescription medications at close to 6,000 sites across the country.  The 2018 April and October Take-Back Days netted 1,863,282 pounds — nearly 948.62 tons — of  prescription drugs. That means since the program first started in 2010,  the total amount of prescription drugs collected by DEA is over 10.8 million pounds of prescription drugs.

Returning your unwanted medicines to a safe disposal location is the safest and most environmentally-friendly way to dispose of unused medication.

And don’t forget about your pet’s meds – many of those drugs require safe disposal as well.

Solution #2: Find an Authorized Collector in your Community.

The DEA’s site search page will help you find an authorized collector in your community. Many pharmacies offer this service at no charge – not just on Take Back Day.

Google also provides a convenient option to locate prescription medicine collection sites, as well.

Solution #3:  Disposal Kiosks at Pharmacies*

Many large chain pharmacies now have safe medication disposal kiosks so you can get rid of your medications without any assistance – also at no cost.  Want to see if your local pharmacy will take back your meds? Try the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s locator.

For example, Walgreens pharmacies now offer kiosks in many locations around the country.  You can check their website to find a location near you – or call the one nearest you.  They describe it as “just like dropping a letter into a mailbox.” 

Speaking of pharmacies, CVS offers a community donation program where local police departments can apply to receive a drug collection unit to help their communities safely dispose of unwanted medications, including controlled substances.  

For other medications, some pharmacies and online retailers also sell postage-paid envelopes for customers to mail any prescription, including expired or over-the-counter medications to a disposal facility.  It’s worth noting that mail-in programs do not include medications that are a controlled substance.

Solution #4: Do-It-Yourself:

This is the least preferable solution, but if you don’t have access to a prescription medicine collection site in your area, follow these steps to get rid of the drugs in the household trash.

  • Remove the medicine from its original container and mix it with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds, sawdust, or kitty litter.
  • Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty bag, or other container to prevent medicine from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
  • Before throwing away the empty Rx container, scratch out or tear off any identifying information on the exterior. This protects your identity as well as your personal health information.
  • Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanied the medicine specifically instructs you to do so. Many communities prohibit this practice out of concern over the trace levels of drug residues found in rivers, lakes, and community drinking water supplies.

*References to any retailer do not imply endorsement by SAFE Project.