How to Safely Dispose of Prescription Medications

You probably don’t give much thought to the unused medications taking up space in your medicine cabinet….but those leftover pills are far from harmless. Taking them incorrectly or accidentally could land someone in the emergency room or even prove deadly. Of particular concern are leftover narcotic painkillers. For example, more than half of the narcotic pain pills from prescriptions filled by patients after dental surgery remained unused, according to a study of 79 adults. The study showed that leftover narcotics too often wind up missing or abused by friends, family members, and household visitors, contributing to the deadly opioid epidemic.

As most people know, medications are not recyclable, but there are many safe ways to dispose of unwanted or expired medications. Note that pill containers are sometimes recyclable, but make sure they are clean and labels are removed.

Drug Take Back Programs:   You need to be on the lookout for Drug Take Back programs in your area because they are typically held a couple of times a year. Oftentimes, local law enforcement agencies sponsor these programs but you can also contact your local waste management authorities to learn about medication disposal options and guidelines for your area. National Drug Take-Back Days have collected a total of more than 5 million pounds of unwanted, unused or expired drugs!   In May 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration had 5,400 sites spread through all 50 state and the top five states with the largest collections, in order, were Texas (almost 40 tons); California (32 tons); Wisconsin (31 tons); Illinois (24 tons); and Massachusetts (24 tons). To find the closest Take-Back option to you, follow the following link:

Disposing of drugs in your household trash: If you do not have a drug take back program in your area, you can use this disposal method suggested by SmaRxt Disposal. They recommend these steps:

  1. Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag. Do not crush tablets or capsules. If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.) add water to dissolve it.
  2. Add kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds (or any material that mixes with the medication and makes it less appealing for pets and children to eat) to the plastic bag.
  3. Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.
  4. Remove and destroy all identifying personal information (prescription label) from all medication containers before recycling them or throwing them away.

Do not flush medications down the drain. This may expose drinking water to the chemicals. Many of them cause ecological harm, and our current sewage treatment systems are not effective in removing all drugs from waterways.

So make plans today to go through your medication cabinet and dispose properly of your unused and expired medications…but make sure to do it safely!