Ask Your Pharmacist: What is the BEST way to dispose of medicines that are no longer needed?

Amanda Bektas, Pharm.D.

Ask Your Pharmacist:  What is the BEST way to dispose of medicines that are no longer needed?

Many of us have found ourselves in a situation where we had medicines that we no longer needed for a variety of reasons. Keeping medicine around the house that is no longer being used can be dangerous for many reasons: 

  • Keeping medicines that you no longer use can cause confusion and medication errors, especially if anyone helps you with your medicines or if go to the hospital for an emergency 
  • Unused medicines left around the house can be accidentally ingested by a child, another family member, or pet by mistake leading to serious injury or death 
  • Controlled substances may be stolen or used inappropriately by someone other than the intended patient 

You might have one medicine or many that you want to dispose of, they may be controlled substances or potentially dangerous medicines, or you might not really know. That’s okay! Knowing where to go to get the information you need is what is most important. Your pharmacist and trusted public resources like the Drug Enforcement Administration website are a good place to start.  

If you can’t take your old, unused medicines to a disposal location, some medications can be safely disposed of at home. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recommends these steps to dispose of them safely without contaminating our water supply. 

  • Take prescriptions out of their original containers  
  • Mix drugs with a substance like cat litter, used coffee grounds, or dish soap 
  • Dispose of this mixture in a sealable container (like an empty margarine tub) 
  • Remove or conceal any personal information from the drug container or label before discarding  
  • Place the mixture container in the trash and drug container in the trash or recycling bin  

Some facilities and business are registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to collect old, unused, unneeded, or expired medicines. These authorized drug collection locations safely and securely gather and dispose of pharmaceuticals containing controlled substances, as well as other medicines. You can find an authorized drug collection site near you using the link to the website below or by calling the DEA Diversion Control Division Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539.  

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