Safe Medicine Disposal
How to Get Rid of Expired or Unneeded Medicines
Medicines help us treat many diseases and health problems, but when they expire or are no longer needed it’s important to get rid of them in the correct way. Getting rid of medicine that you don’t need is especially important if you have children or pets in your home. Here are some ways that poison centers and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that you dispose of expired or unneeded medicines. Remember to call the free national Poison Help number at 1-800-222-1222 if you have any questions.
Medicine Take-Back Programs
Medicine take-back programs are the best way to get rid of expired, unwanted, or unused medicines from your home and reduce the chance that others may take the medicine.
Here are some ways you can find out if there is a medicine take-back program in your community and learn about any special rules regarding which medicines can be taken back:
- Visit http://www.disposemymeds.org/
- Call your local non-emergency law enforcement number
- Contact your city or county government's household trash and recycling service
- Call your poison center at 1-800-222-1222
- Ask your pharmacist
- Visit the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s website for information on National Prescription Drug Take-Back Events (http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/)
Disposal in Household Trash
While using a take-back program is best, you can also follow these simple steps to dispose of most medicines in the household trash:
- Mix medicines (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with something people or pets are unlikely to try to eat like kitty litter or used coffee grounds;
- Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag; and
- Throw the container in your household trash.
- Before throwing out your empty pill bottle or other empty medicine packaging, remember to scratch out all information on any prescription labels to make them unreadable.
Download the over-the-counter (OTC) medicine household disposal poster (PDF)
*Please note that the best way to dispose of all medicines, including OTC medicines, is through medicine take-back programs in your community.
Flushing of Certain Medicines
Some medicines that may be especially dangerous if accidentally ingested by children or pets have specific disposal instructions that say they should be flushed down the sink or toilet as soon as they are no longer needed, and when they cannot be disposed of through a medicine take-back program.
Click here for a list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing. For example, people who use fentanyl patches for pain should immediately flush their used or unneeded patches down the toilet. When you dispose of these patches and certain other powerful medicines down the sink or toilet you help to keep others safe by ensuring that these medicines cannot be used again or accidentally ingested and cause harm.
You may have also received disposal directions for these medicines when you picked up your prescription. If your medicine is on this list, and you did not receive information containing disposal instructions along with your dispensed prescription, you can find instructions on how to dispose of the medicines at DailyMed, by searching on the drug name and then looking in one of the following sections of the prescribing information:
- Information for Patients and Caregivers
- Patient Information
- Patient Counseling Information
- Safety and Handling Instructions
- Medication Guide
For additional information, see Medication Disposal: Questions and Answers.
Medicines Recommended for Disposal by Flushing
This list from FDA tells you what expired, unwanted, or unused medicines you should flush down the sink or toilet to help prevent danger to people and pets in the home. Flushing these medicines will get rid of them right away and help keep your family and pets safe.
Links in the list below go to medicine information for consumers that includes specific disposal instructions.
Click here for a printable version of this list (PDF) (revised February 2015 by the FDA).
- DEA Nationwide Prescription Drug Take-Back Initiative
- Safe Use Initiative: Fentanyl Transdermal System “Patches”: Safe Disposal
- Don't Be Tempted to Use Expired Medicines
- Needles and Other Sharps (Safe Disposal Outside of Health Care Settings)
- Expiration Dates Matter
- New FDA Web Page Lists Disposal Instructions for Select Medicines [Archived]
Content adapted from FDA, accessed May 5, 2015.