How to Properly Dispose of Medications


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) give guidelines on the proper disposal of medications. Before, consumers were advised to dispose of medications by flushing them down the toilet. This is no longer recommended. Here are tips on how to properly dispose of medications.

Guidelines for proper disposal of prescription drugs

  • Unless otherwise instructed in the package, put prescription drugs in sealed plastic bags and throw them in a trash. If possible, mix the pills with an unattractive substance such as coffee grounds. This will prevent pets and children from consuming the drugs in case they find them.
  • Flush liquid medication down the toilet. However, do this only if it says on the label that it’s safe to do so or a pharmacist confirms that it is an acceptable disposal method for the drug. Flushing drugs down the toilet is sometimes encouraged to prevent medications from contaminating water supplies. Flushing is also recommended for drugs that would place kids or pets at serious risk if swallowed.
  • Dispose the drugs at hazardous waste depots. This is only recommended for certain drugs. Before disposing call a pharmacist or municipality for more information about the medication.
  • Take advantage of drug take-back days in the community. This service is provided in some places. It is aimed at encouraging people to drop off unused prescription drugs to be disposed of safely by trained personnel.
  • Before throwing out the container containing the medication, scrape the name and any other identifying information off the label for protection of privacy.

How to Dispose of Old Prescription Drugs

  • Gather all the outdated drugs in their containers. Also, collect all medication that will not be used including unused pain medication, antibiotics and over the counter medication.
  • Pour rubbing alcohol into the drug containers until full. Once full, the medication will start to dissolve. Remove labels from the bottles or use a black permanent marker to wipe out the personal information on the labels. Place the containers into an air tight bag.
  • Throw the bags in the garbage. It is not safe to dispose of medication by flushing it down a commode. Proper disposal of medication is important to avoid water contamination and prevent them getting into the wrong hands.
  • Syringes with unused drugs should also be disposed of properly. Contact the local sanitation authorities and find out the program available for disposal of such.

Significance of Proper Drug Disposal

Knowing how to properly dispose of medications is important because it protects people, animals and the environment. Children and animals may find drugs thrown in the trash and consume them.

Concern about water contamination as a result of flushing medication led to the recommendations against flushing of drugs, although the majority of water pollution from drugs comes from people passing drugs out through their bodies. Proper disposal of medicines also deters teenagers and adults from misusing drugs or using drugs that are past their expiry dates.


According to the FDA, certain drugs come with instructions on how they should be disposed of. Powerful painkillers can be dangerous to children and pets and may even be abused by some people if not properly disposed of. In such cases, flushing is considered the safest method of disposal. Inhalers used to relieve breathing problems are considered hazardous waste and should be properly disposed of.

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Drug take-back programs are available in some areas. The FDA encourages individuals to take advantage of such programs. Pharmacists can also assist individuals seeking information on the proper disposal of drugs.

Important Tips

  • Never give unused drugs to another person. Drugs may be harmless to one person but harmful on others.
  • Ensure children and pets cannot access medication stored in a house.
  • Go through the medicine cabinet after every 6 months or so to check for out dated drugs that need disposal.
  • Never use expired or out dated drugs. Expired drugs are those whose expiry dates have past while out dated drugs are medications that are no longer prescribed for certain illnesses. A drug can be out dated but not necessarily expired.
  • People should never use medication if they do not know what they are or what they are for.
  • Consult physicians before using medication.

About Cary Byrd

eDrugSearch founder, Cary Byrd, has been called an “e-health innovator” by MarketIntellNow, interviewed by top pharmaceutical industry journalists, invited to Matthew Holt’s Health 2.0 Conference and a Consumer Report's health summit, and highlighted on numerous health blogs.

How to Properly Dispose of Medications

One thought on “How to Properly Dispose of Medications

  • Extremely important tips & info… People take drugs nowadays without even looking at the expiration date or whether a drug is safe or not. Furthermore, most people are not aware of any disposable regulations… Thank you for that… 🙂

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