Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know

Medicines play an important role in treating many conditions and diseases, but when they are no longer needed it's important to dispose of them properly to avoid harm to others. Below, we list some disposal options and some special disposal instructions for you to consider when throwing out expired, unwanted, or unused medicines.

Medicine Take-Back Programs

Medicine take-back programs for disposal are a good way to remove expired, unwanted, or unused medicines from the home and reduce the chance that others may accidentally take the medicine. Contact your city or county government's household trash and recycling service to see if there is a medicine take-back program in your community and learn about any special rules regarding which medicines can be taken back. You can also talk to your pharmacist to see if he or she knows of other medicine disposal programs in your area or visit the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's website for information on National Prescription Drug-Take Back Events.

Disposal in Household Trash

If no medicine take-back program is available in your area, you can also follow these simple steps to dispose of most medicines in the household trash:

  • Mix medicines (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds;
  • Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag; and
  • Throw the container in your household trash.
  • Before throwing out a medicine container, such as a pill bottle, remember to scratch out all information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.

Flushing of Certain Medicines

There is a small number of medicines that may be especially harmful and, in some cases, fatal with just one dose if they are used by someone other than the person for whom the medicine was prescribed. To prevent accidental ingestion by children, pets, or anyone else, a few medicines have specific disposal instructions indicating they should be flushed down the sink or toilet as soon as they are no longer needed, and when they cannot be disposed of through a medicine take-back program. Click here for a list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing. For example, patients in assisted living communities using fentanyl patches for pain should immediately flush their used or unneeded patches down the toilet. When you dispose of these patches and certain other powerful medicines down the sink or toilet you help to keep others safe by ensuring that these medicines cannot be used again or accidentally ingested and cause harm.

You may have also received disposal directions for these medicines when you picked up your prescription. If your medicine is on this list, and you did not receive information containing disposal instructions along with your dispensed prescription, you can find instructions on how to dispose of the medicines at DailyMed, by searching on the drug name and then looking in one of the following sections of the prescribing information:

  • Information for Patients and Caregivers
  • Patient Information
  • Patient Counseling Information
  • Safety and Handling Instructions
  • Medication Guide

FDA remains committed to working with other federal agencies and medicine manufacturers to develop alternative, safe disposal policies. Below is some additional information about flushing medicine when it is no longer needed. If you have additional questions about disposing of your medicine, please contact us at 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332).

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do the medications on the list have flushing directions for disposal?

The medicines on this list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing are safe and effective when used as prescribed, but they could be especially harmful to a child, pet, or anyone else if taken accidentally. Some of the possible harmful effects include breathing difficulties or heart problems, possibly leading to death. For these reasons, FDA advises that when it isn't possible to return these medicines through a medicine take-back program, flushing these medicines down the sink or toilet is currently the best way to immediately and permanently remove the risk of harm from the home. FDA continues to work with and encourage the manufacturers of these medicines to develop alternative, safe disposal systems.

All other expired, unwanted, or unused medicines should be disposed of by using a medicine take-back program, if available, or by throwing them away in the household trash.

Does flushing the medicines on the list down the toilet or sink drain pose a risk to human health and the environment?

We are aware of recent reports that have noted trace amounts of medicines in the water system. The majority of medicines found in the water system are a result of the body's natural routes of drug elimination (in urine or feces). Scientists, to date, have found no evidence of harmful effects to human health from medicines in the environment.

Disposal of these select, few medicines by flushing contributes only a small fraction of the total amount of medicine found in the water. When a medicine take-back program isn't available, FDA believes that any potential risk to people and the environment from flushing this small, select list of medicines is outweighed by the real possibility of life-threatening risks from accidental ingestion of these medicines.

I live in an assisted living community and take my own medicines. I have prescription medicines that I no longer need. How can I safely dispose of them?

Check first with your community's health care management team to learn the best way to dispose of your used or unneeded medicines. If you learn that you are responsible for disposal of your own medicines, there are a few options that you can choose from:

  1. Medicine take-back programs for disposal are a good way to remove expired, unwanted, or unused medicines from the home and reduce the chance that others may accidentally take the medicine. Contact your city or county government's household trash and recycling service to see if there is a medicine take-back program in your community and to learn about any special rules regarding which medicines can be taken back for safe disposal. You may also visit the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's website for more information on National Prescription Drug-Take Back Events.
  2. If no medicine take-back program is available in your area, you can dispose of most medicines in your household trash. Mix the medicines (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds. Place the mixture in a container such as a zip-top or sealable plastic bag, and throw the container in your household trash. Before throwing out a medicine container, such as a pill bottle, remember to scratch out all personal information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.
  3. A small number of medicines may be especially harmful, and in some cases are fatal with just one dose, if they are taken by someone other than the person for whom the medicine was prescribed. For this reason, a few medicines have specific disposal instructions telling you to flush them down the sink or toilet when they are no longer needed and when they cannot be disposed of through a medicine take-back program. For example, you should flush strong pain medicines such as Oxycontin® down the drain as soon as they are no longer needed. When you dispose of these medicines down the sink or toilet, they cannot be accidentally taken by children, pets, or anyone else.
  4. Some of these medicines recommended for disposal by flushing are available as adhesive skin patches. For example, fentanyl patches are used to treat patients in constant pain by releasing a continuous amount of drug from the patch over three days. Even a used patch that has been worn for three days still contains enough fentanyl to harm or cause death in a child.

FDA recommends disposing of used patches immediately after taking them off of the skin. Fold the patch in half so that the sticky sides meet, and then flush it down the toilet. Used or unneeded fentanyl patches should NOT be placed in the household trash where children or pets can find them.

View Source

Print your FREE Diabetes Prescription Discount Drug Card. This membership card will provide you with Rx medication savings of up to 75% at more than 56,000 national and regional pharmacies across the country.

Free Diabetes Prescription Medication Card Print Free Card
  • Save up to 75% on drug costs.
  • No limits on usage.
  • Save on brand and generics.
  • Use at 56,000 pharmacies.

Participating Pharmacies

  • CVS Pharmacy
  • Walgreens
  • Giant Eagle Pharmacy
  • Albertsons Savon Pharmacy
  • Safeway
  • Longs Drugs
  • ACME Savon Pharmacy
  • Rite Aid
  • Walmart Pharmacy
  • Vons
  • Kroger
  • Cub Pharmacy
  • Shopko
  • Dillons Food Stores
  • Brookshire Brothers
  • Aurora Pharmacy
  • Weis Pharmacy
  • King Soopers
  • Drugstore at Martin's
  • Pavilions
  • Savemart Pharmacy
  • Kmart Pharmacy
  • Tom Thumb
  • Shaws Osco Pharmacy
  • Target Pharmacy
  • FredMeyer
  • A&P Pharmacy
  • Randalls
  • Raley's
  • Shop'n Save Pharmacy
  • Genuardi's Family Markets
  • Pathmark
  • Fred's Pharmacy
  • Wegmans
  • Giant
  • Stop & Shop
  • SuperFresh
  • Smith's Pharmacy
  • Schnucks Pharmacy
  • Ralphs Pharmacy
  • Bi-Mart
  • Meijer Pharmacy
  • Brooks Pharmacy
  • Jewel-Osco Pharmacy
  • Pamida
  • Bi-Lo
  • Winn Dixie
  • HyVee
See Entire Pharmacy List