Dr. Ernest Levister
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) supports the responsible disposal of medicines from the home. Almost all medicines can be safely disposed of by using community medicine take-back programs or using U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)-authorized collectors. When these options are not available, consumers may also dispose of unneeded medicine in their household trash.
DEA-authorized collectors safely and securely collect and dispose of pharmaceutical controlled substances and other prescription drugs. In your community, authorized collection sites may be retail pharmacies, hospital or clinic pharmacies, and law enforcement locations. Some pharmacies may also offer mail-back envelopes to assist consumers in safely disposing of their unused medicines through the U.S. Mail.
Consumers can visit the DEA’S website for more information about drug disposal and to locate an authorized collector in their area. Consumers may also call the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539 to find an authorized collector in their community. Local law enforcement agencies may also sponsor medicine take-back programs in your community. Contact your city or county government for more information on local drug take-back programs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) periodically hosts National Prescription Drug Take Back events where collection sites are set up in communities nationwide for safe disposal of prescription drugs.
If a take-back or mail back program is not available to you, most other unused or expired medicines can be disposed of in your household trash. First, mix the medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds. Then place the mixture in a container such as a zip-top or sealable plastic bag, and throw the container away in your household trash. Before throwing out your empty pill bottle or other empty medicine packaging remember to scratch out all personal information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.
There are, however, a few prescription medicines that contain controlled substances and are especially harmful if taken accidentally by someone other than the patient. These medicines should not be thrown in the trash, because this method may still provide an opportunity for a child or pet to accidentally take the medicine. If a DEA-authorized collector or drug take-back program is not available, FDA recommends that these medicines be disposed of by flushing when they are no longer needed.