How to Safely Dispose of Prescription Medicine

prescription medication


Expired and unused prescription medications are more often than not thrown in a medicine cabinet and can sit there for years before you ever even think about them again. This can lead to accidental misuse of the medication as a person fills new prescriptions and places them in the cabinet near the old ones. Taking expired medications or the wrong medications can cause all sorts of health problems and old medications might interact negatively with new medications a person is taking. Somme medications can be downright dangerous if taken by the wrong person. 

There's also the possibility of abuse, as prescription pain killers and muscle relaxers can fall into the wrong hands, and the possibility a kid could get into them and end up overdosing on them. Safe disposal of prescription drugs ensures they don't accidentally or intentionally get misused or abused. Instead of keeping potentially medications around "just in case," it's much safer to dispose of them properly and get new medication the next time you need it. 

Read the Label

Many prescription drugs have specific disposal instructions printed right there on the label. If the label doesn't say how to dispose of the drugs, then there's a pretty good chance it's somewhere on that medicine information paper the pharmacist gave you and you never read. If there are specific instructions for disposal, follow them. They're on there for a reason. 

Drug Take-Back Programs

Check with your local city garbage service to see if there's a drug take-back program in place. A number of communities have opened up no questions asked drug take-back programs where people can anonymously turn in unused drugs for proper disposal. This keeps them out of landfills and the sewage system and is the best way to dispose of unused medications if a program is available in your area. If not, the Drug Enforcement Agency occasionally sponsors Drug Take-Back Days and has stations set up in cities nationwide. 


Proper Disposal in the Garbage

When all else fails, properly disposing of the drugs in the household trash is probably your best option. Follow these guidelines for safely disposing of prescription medications in the trash:

  • Remove them from their original containers. Drug addicts have been known to sift through trash cans looking for pill bottles. If you do decide to throw the pills away in the bottle, scratch out all identifying information, including your personal information. 
  • Mix the pills with kitty litter of coffee grounds.
  • Place them into a bag or sealed container, so they won't leak or otherwise fall out of the garbage bag. 

What Not to Do

Here are some tips on what not to do when attempting to safely dispose of prescription medications:

  • Don't leave identifying or personal information on the label. 
  • Don't flush the medications down the toilet unless the directions on the label or safety instruction paper explicitly state to do so. 
  • Don't give medications to friends or family members who "need" them. 
  • Don't keep medications past their expiration date and never use medications that have expired. 
  • Don't start taking a prescription medication again once you've stopped taking it without first consulting with your physician. 

More Information

For more information on how to properly dispose of prescription medications, check out the FDA guidelines page at the following location: