Safe Medication Disposal

Author: Christine Cambareri, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP
Last Reviewed: July 19, 2023

Any expired, unwanted, or unused medicines can be disposed of in a local “take back” program or medication drop box at a police station. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day in communities nationwide in the Spring and Fall. Many communities also have their own drug take-back programs. Check with your local law enforcement officials to find a location near you or the DEA to find a DEA-authorized collection site in your community. You can also check with your local pharmacist as some pharmacies have mail-back programs and disposal kiosks for unused medicines.

When a take-back option is not readily available, you can dispose of medicines at home. Do not flush unused medications (other than certain controlled substances) down the toilet. This can negatively impact the environment and our water sources. However, some medications, such as controlled substances have a high risk for abuse. it is recommended that these medications be flushed down the toilet by the FDA. Learn more about medications that should be flushed here.

If you are going to dispose of your medication at home, it is recommended you dispose of them in the household trash in the following way.

  1. Remove the drugs from their original containers and mix them with something undesirable, such as used coffee grounds, dirt, or cat litter. This makes the medicine less appealing to children and pets and unrecognizable to someone who might intentionally go through the trash looking for drugs.
  2. Put the mixture in something you can close (a re-sealable zipper storage bag, empty can, or another container) to prevent the drug from leaking or spilling out.
  3. Throw the container in the garbage.
  4. Scratch out all your personal information on the empty medicine packaging to protect your identity and privacy. Throw the packaging away.

If you are unsure about something, have doubts about your medications, how to dispose of unneeded medications, why you are taking them, how to take them or if your medications look or make you feel different it is best to be cautious and ask! It never ever hurts to ask or double-check!


Haughey, C. W., Lawson, D., Roberts, K., Santos, M., & Spinosa, S. (2019). Safe medication disposal. Home Healthcare Now, 37(2), 106-110.


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