How To Dispose of Unused Medicine

Many people are unsure of how to properly dispose of old or unused medication. Many drugs can be thrown in the household trash, but consumers should take precautions before throwing them out, according to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). A few drugs should be flushed down the toilet. Prescription “Take Back Days” as sponsored by the DEA and community medication take back programs also offer a safe easy way to properly dispose of medication. This is important to the entire community given the epidemic prescription drug problem in the United States. Most children and teens first obtain their drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets or those of their friends.
FDA worked with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to develop the first consumer guidance for proper disposal of prescription drugs. Issued by ONDCP in February 2007 and updated in October 2009, the federal guidelines are summarized here:
Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so. When a drug contains instructions to flush it down the toilet it is because FDA, working with the manufacturer, has determined this method to e the most appropriate route of disposal that presents the least risk to safety. Drugs such as powerful narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances carry instructions for flushing to reduce the danger of unintentional use or overdose and illegal abuse.
Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service (see blue pages in phone book) to see if a take-back program is available in your community. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), working with state and local law enforcement agencies, is sponsoring National Prescription Drug Take Back Days ( throughout the United States. The latest national event was on April 26, 2014 and 780,158 pounds of drugs were collected. If you live in Encinitas, you may go to the sheriff’s office at any time and drop off your medication in a kiosk located in the lobby, no questions asked.
If no instructions are given on the drug label and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash, but first: Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash. Put them in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
Before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all the identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.
Do not give medications to friends. Doctors prescribe drugs based on a person’s specific symptoms and medical history. A drug that works for you could be dangerous for someone else. When in doubt about proper disposal, talk to your pharmacist.
This information has been reproduced from FDA Consumer Health Information April 2011