Find Disposal Information
What to do with unused medications
There are two leading options for the proper disposal of medications:
To learn more:
Many homes end up with unwanted or expired prescription and over-the-counter medications. Old prescriptions left in medicine cabinets or elsewhere in the home can often be an easy source for those who would like to abuse prescription medications. They may also cause confusion for people who are already taking a large number of medications. Furthermore, some medications, including fentanyl patches, should be properly disposed of by flushing to prevent accidental ingestion by children and pets.
You can help to prevent accidental or intentional use of these unwanted medications by getting rid of them safely.
Many states have year-round drug take-back programs, utilizing on-site drug disposal boxes or mail-back programs, and local medication take-back events that are held at different times through the year. The take-back programs are often facilitated by police departments, municipal buildings, or pharmacies.
Disposal locations in your area can be found using AWARXE’s Locator Tool.
As of October 9, 2014, non-law enforcement locations, such as pharmacies, are eligible to collect controlled substances for disposal. Contact your local disposal site to determine if they able to collect controlled substances. To learn more about disposal regulations, refer to the Information on Federal Drug Disposal Law and Controlled Substances section below.
When a drug disposal program is not available in your area, you should follow the FDA guidelines below that explain how to safely dispose of unused, unwanted medications at home. You can also follow the tips on this flyer.
FDA provides a web page that includes instructions for safely disposing of unwanted prescription drugs, a slideshow illustrating the steps, and a flyer that can be downloaded or printed for easy reference. Here is a summary of the steps for home disposal:
- Check the label on your medication and follow any instructions for safe disposal provided.
- Do not flush the drugs down the toilet, unless the label says to flush them. If the label says to flush the drugs, that’s because the FDA and the drug manufacturer determined that was the safest method of disposal to prevent harm to others. The FDA list of drugs that should be flushed is available on the FDA website.
- If there are no instructions on the label, dispose of the drugs in the home garbage. But first, take them out of the container and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or cat litter. Seal the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container that can be disposed of in the garbage.
Before disposing of drugs in the garbage, check with your local government to find out if other methods of disposal are recommended or required by law. To find out which guidelines to use in your state, you could also check with your state board of pharmacy or your pharmacist. State laws for medication disposal should be followed if they are stricter than federal guidelines.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also encourages people to contact their local waste management authority to learn about medication disposal guidelines for their area.
Again, if you are still unsure about how to safely dispose of your unused medications, check with your pharmacist, state board of pharmacy, or other local government agency. They are there to help!
When Should I Flush Unneeded Medications or Used Patches?
As noted above, FDA recommends that certain unused drugs and used medication patches should be flushed to avoid accidental ingestion by children, pets, and others in the home.
For example, FDA published a safety alert urging patients and caregivers who use or administer fentanyl patches to properly use, store, and dispose of them. The FDA safety alert provides details on securely storing and properly applying fentanyl patches to avoid children’s accidental exposure.
FDA advises that used or unneeded patches are properly disposed of by flushing. The adhesive side of the patch should be folded together and then the patch should be flushed down the toilet. FDA notes that the agency “recognizes that there are environmental concerns about flushing medicines down the toilet. However, FDA believes that the risk associated with accidental exposure to this strong narcotic medicine outweighs any potential risk associated with disposal by flushing. When the patches are no longer needed, disposing by flushing completely eliminates the risk of harm to people in the home.”
Also, certain other medications, such as OxyContin®, Percocet®, and Dilaudid®, should be disposed of by flushing when you have unneeded tablets. The complete list of drugs that should be flushed is available on the FDA website.
Safely Store the Medications You Will Keep
Now that you have made plans to safely dispose of your unused, unwanted medications, how can you keep the medications you need stored safely in your home? You may want to lock your medications in a secure cabinet or a medicine safe. In particular, you should lock up your controlled substance prescription medications. See General Medication Safety Tips for more information on safely using medications and click over to the Safe Storage page to learn how to store them safely.
The process toward providing more disposal options began on October 12, 2010, when President Obama signed the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act (A 3397) into law to amend the Controlled Substances Act, which did not require provisions to allow for the take-back disposal of controlled substances (CS). In other words, a law was not in place to give any drug disposal sites the ability to accept CS for disposal.
Once the Act was passed, law enforcement agencies across the country were able to collect CS. In an effort to inform the public about these drug disposal programs that could collect CS, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) held nine national take-back events. By the time that the ninth and final DEA national take-back event was held on September 27, 2014, roughly 5,500 law enforcement locations around the country participated in the event and 2,411 tons of medication were collected for proper disposal!
As of October 9, 2014, non-law enforcement locations (eg, pharmacies) in the United States are eligible to serve as collection sites for disposal of CS when they register with the DEA for such purposes. Before these new regulations were passed, only locations with a police presence were able to collect CS for disposal. The regulations also include new rules for take-back events and mail-back programs.
This is a major step forward in an effort to give the public more options when it comes to properly disposing of prescription medications. If your local pharmacy has a drug disposal program, contact them to see if they have begun to accept CS.
These final regulations will give more people access to CS drug disposal sites, preventing incidents of misuse and abuse.
Please note that state CS laws vary, and DEA registrants need time to comply with the new rules, so you may want to check with law enforcement, your municipality, or board of pharmacy to obtain state-specific information. Read DEA’s fact sheet (PDF) to learn more about the rule.
To find a drug disposal site in your area, use AWARXE’s Locator Tool.