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Life in Motion

How to Properly Dispose of Unused Medication

Health & Prevention

Many of us have bottles of unused medication in our cabinets and are unsure how to properly dispose of them. Expired, unwanted, or unused medication should be removed from your home as quickly as possible to reduce the chances of someone accidentally taking them or someone illegally using them.

Drug take-back programs

The most recommended way to dispose of unused medication is through a drug take-back program. These programs allow you to bring expired or unused medication to a central location such as the local police station and/or pharmacy for proper disposal. Visit the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (www.dea.gov) or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (www.fda.gov) websites for more information.

Household Disposal

If no instructions are given on the drug label and no take-back programs are available in your area, almost all medications can be thrown into your household trash by following these steps:

  • Remove the medications from their original containers and mix them with something undesirable, such as used coffee grounds, dirt, or cat litter.
  • Put the mixture in something you can close (a re-sealable zipper storage bag, empty can, or other container) to prevent the drug from leaking or spilling out.
  • Scratch out all of your personal information on the empty medication packaging to protect your identity and privacy.

Please avoid flushing or dumping any medications down a drain. Sewage treatment systems can’t remove all the medications from the water released into lakes, rivers, or oceans in your area.*

For more information on proper disposal of medications, visit the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) website at www.dea.gov.

* United States Geological Survey. (2014). Pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams. Retrieved from http://toxics.usgs.gov/pubs/FS-027-02/pdf/FS-027-02.pdf

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