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Got Drugs? How To Safely Dispose Of Unwanted Medications

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It used to be that when someone had leftover or unwanted medications, they simply flushed them down the toilet and never gave it another thought. Now, more and more people are realizing this probably isn't the best thing to do. Here's what you need to know about safely and responsibly handling your hazardous pharmaceutical waste disposal.

What Is Deemed Hazardous Waste?

Hazardous waste is defined as any substance that when improperly disposed of can negatively affect the health of humans, animals, or the environment. While medications serve a helpful role in treating illness and disease, this doesn't mean they are good for the environment and every living thing in it.

What Should You Do With Unwanted Medications?

Any expired medications or prescription drugs that are no longer wanted should be disposed of as soon as possible. This lessens the chance of children getting into them as well as accidental misuse or intentional abuse by both children and adults. With the narcotic addiction epidemic going on in the country, it is especially imperative you don't leave powerful unused narcotics, such as Oxycontin, lying around. Additionally, many expired medications lose their efficacy, or their potent active ingredients that provide the desired health benefits. This can be dangerous for people as they may erroneously assume their condition is being controlled when in fact it is not.

The best thing to do with all unwanted medications is to participate in a medicine take-back program. In additional to the National Take Back Initiative, a one-day annual event held throughout the country that allows you to bring in your unwanted medications to select locations, you can also find year-round authorized collection locations.  These are usually located at health care facilities, law enforcement agencies, or hazardous waste management facilities.

What If There Isn't A Medication Take-Back Program Near You?

While take-back programs are common in urban and suburban areas, they may not be as widely available in rural areas. In this case, follow these guidelines for safe disposal when no other options are available to you.

Household Trash

  • Mix the medications in with wet coffee grounds, animal waste, such as cat litter, or compost.
  • Seal this in a plastic bag or container and "bury" in the garbage
  • Use a black permanent marker to remove any personal identifying information on empty prescription bottles.


  • Unless absolutely necessary, such as preventing an active addict from their immediate use, do not flush any medications down the toilet. Water quality studies have detected pharmaceutical compounds in rivers, lakes, and the drinking water supply.