Proper Medication Disposal


Have you gone through your medicine cabinet lately? It’s a good idea to periodically look at both your prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements to check for those that are expired. Some medications can become toxic the longer they are past the expiration date listed by the manufacturer. A good reminder for when to go through your medicine cabinet is during Daylight Savings Time, which occurs twice per year in the spring and fall.

Proper medication disposal helps:

  • to prevent drug abuse and health risks. Teenagers ages 12-17 are an at-risk group who may try to experiment with what they find in the medicine cabinets of their own homes or those of friends and family members.
  • the environment by keeping it out of lakes, rivers, streams and other natural resources.
  • wildlife and scavenging animals to be protected from harm, as proper medication disposal discourages them from “nosing around” in your garbage and ingesting medication.


Identify Expired Medications

Once you’ve removed the expired medications and supplements from your medicine cabinet, set them aside. Make sure they are placed out of reach of both children and pets.

Follow Label Directions

Read the directions on the label or accompanying patient information for any specific directions on how to dispose of that particular medication.

Do not flush any medication down the toilet and do not pour any medication down a sink or drain.

Look for Drug Take-Back Programs

Periodically, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) will partner with local communities to allow residents to bring their expired or unused prescription medications to a centralized location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service to ask if there is a take-back program in your area.

Local pharmacies also are a good resource to find out about medication disposal. Many pharmacies sell special envelopes used to mail in your expired or unused medications via the U.S. Postal Service, a good option if there isn’t a take-back program in your area. Certain restrictions on the types of medications accepted may apply.

For more information on drug take-back programs, visit the Office of Diversion Control site.

Disposing of Medications in Your Trash

When throwing away medication in your trash, follow these guidelines.

  • Remove the medication from its original container.
  • Mix the medication with an undesirable substance like kitty litter or used coffee grounds. It will appear unrecognizable to pets and people who might intentionally go through your trash.
  • Place the medication and undesirable substance in a sealable bag or empty container to prevent it from leaking out of the garbage bag.    
  • Remove or scratch out any personal information on the empty prescription containers to protect your privacy.
  • Do not give medications prescribed to you or your family members to anyone else. They could be harmful to others.

If you are still unsure about how to properly dispose of medications and supplements, ask your pharmacist.

This information has been approved by Charlie Farris, RPh (March 2013).

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