Pharmacist Advice on How to Properly Dispose of Medications

Published: September 08, 2023
Michelle Chin
By Michelle Chin, PharmD
Gina Luchen
By Georgia G. Luchen, PharmD

There are times when you reach into the medication cabinet for a bottle of acetaminophen to treat a headache, and notice the tablets are expired.  What do you do next? While throwing the expired medication in the trash might be the easiest choice, it is not the safest.

Why should you not throw unwanted or expired medications in the trash?
Medications that are not secured can cause harm or fall into the wrong hands.  Children and animals can accidentally grab and consume these medications, risking their health. Depending on the medication, drug diversion can also happen. Medications that are high-value, contain opioids, or other controlled substances have high risk of being misused or sold illegally. Even if you trust your household, once the trash is collected it is out of your control. Last but not least, medications thrown in the trash can risk pollution and harm the environment.

How should you dispose of your unwanted or expired medications? 
Remove all personal information from your bottle (such as your name, address, and other personal identifiers)

  1. Take your medication to a drug disposal kiosk:
    1. Participate in the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.
    2. Take your medications to a pharmacy or local police station with secure disposal kiosks. Find disposal locations based on your zip code.

  2. If a DEA disposal kiosk or collection site is not available, safely dispose of the medication at home:
    1. Find out if your medication is safe to flush down the toilet by reviewing the Food and Drug Administration’s flush list.
    2. If the medication is not safe to flush:
      1. Mix it in an undesirable substance such as used coffee grounds or cat litter.
      2. Do not crush the capsules or tablets.
      3. Then place the mixture into a plastic, sealable bag and throw directly into the trash.

The next time you are planning to clean out your medication cabinet or notice medications that need disposal, think about the safety of those around you and practice safe medication disposal. For more information and guidance, you can always visit the FDA drug disposal website.

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