From the Archives – How to Safely Dispose of Expired Medications

Thank you to Mira Patel, Healthy Living Pharmacist, for contributing to this post.

When medications have expired or are no longer needed, the question becomes, “How do I safely get rid of these drugs?” There are a few ways to dispose of medications that are safe for people, animals, and the environment.

Medication Disposal Options

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sets up collection sites nationwide for National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. The goals of this day is to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse of medications.

Local law enforcement and waste management authorities can also take expired/unused medications back. There are collectors registered with the DEA that can help with unneeded drugs. Visit the Diversion Control Division website of the Drug Enforcement Administration or call (800)882-9539 for more information.

Home Disposal

If none of the above options are available, consumers can also dispose of medications in their household trash when these guidelines are followed:

  1. Mix pills with dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds and put it in a sealed plastic bag. (Do not crush tablets and capsules.)
  2. Throw the plastic bag in household trash.
  3. Before throwing away empty pill bottles, make sure to remove all personal and doctor’s information from the bottle.

There are some medications that are very harmful and can be fatal with even one dose if ingested by someone other than the patient who was prescribed that specific medication. For these meds, it is crucial to find a take-back program or DEA collector. If that is not possible, one may safely flush the medication down the toilet or in a sink (as a last resort). Find a list of these drugs here.


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