Safely Dispose of Unused Medications

Medicines Recommended for Disposal by Flushing

This list from the FDA tells you what unused or expired 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.

Medicine

Active Ingredient

Actiq, oral transmucosal lozenge * Fentanyl Citrate
Avinza, capsules (extended release) Morphine Sulfate
Daytrana, transdermal patch system Methylphenidate
Demerol, tablets * Meperidine Hydrochloride
Demerol, oral solution * Meperidine Hydrochloride
Diastat/Diastat AcuDial, rectal gel Diazepam
Dilaudid, tablets * Hydromorphone Hydrochloride
Dilaudid, oral liquid * Hydromorphone Hydrochloride
Dolophine Hydrochloride, tablets * Methadone Hydrochloride
Duragesic, patch (extended release) * Fentanyl
Embeda, capsules (extended release) Morphine Sulfate; Naltrexone Hydrochloride
Exalgo, tablets (extended release) Hydromorphone Hydrochloride
Fentora, tablets (buccal) Fentanyl Citrate
Kadian, capsules (extended release) Morphine Sulfate
Methadone Hydrochloride, oral solution * Methadone Hydrochloride
Methadose, tablets * Methadone Hydrochloride
Morphine Sulfate, tablets (immediate release) * Morphine Sulfate
Morphine Sulfate, oral solution * Morphine Sulfate
MS Contin, tablets (extended release) * Morphine Sulfate
Onsolis, soluble film (buccal) Fentanyl Citrate
Opana, tablets (immediate release) Oxymorphone Hydrochloride
Opana ER, tablets (extended release) Oxymorphone Hydrochloride
Oramorph SR, tablets (sustained release) Morphine Sulfate
Oxycontin, tablets (extended release) * Oxycodone Hydrochloride
Percocet, tablets * Acetaminophen; Oxycodone Hydrochloride
Percodan, tablets * Aspirin; Oxycodone Hydrochloride
Xyrem, oral solution Sodium Oxybate

*These medicines have generic versions available or are only available in generic formulations. List revised: March 2010. FDA continually evaluates medicines for safety risks and will update the list as needed. Click here for the latest list.

How to Dispose of Unused Medicines

Is your medicine cabinet filled with expired drugs or medications you no longer use? How should you dispose of them?

Most drugs can be thrown in the household trash, but consumers should take certain precautions before tossing them out, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A few drugs should be flushed down the toilet. And a growing number of community-based “take-back” programs offer another safe disposal alternative.

  • Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
  • If no instructions are given, throw the drugs in the household trash, but first:
    • Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
    • Put them in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
  • Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service (see blue pages in phone book) to see if a take-back program is available in your community.
  • Before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.
  • Do not give medications to friends. Doctors prescribe drugs based on a person’s specific symptoms and medical history. A drug that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.
  • When in doubt about proper disposal, talk to your pharmacist.

FDA’s Director of Pharmacy Affairs, Ilisa Bernstein, Pharm.D., J.D., says the same disposal methods for prescription drugs could apply to over-the-counter drugs as well.

Despite the safety reasons for flushing drugs, some people are questioning the practice because of concerns about trace levels of drug residues found in surface water, such as rivers and lakes, and in some community drinking water supplies. However, the main way drug residues enter water systems is by people taking medications and then naturally passing them through their bodies, says Raanan Bloom, Ph.D., an Environmental Assessment Expert in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Most drugs are not completely absorbed or metabolized by the body, and enter the environment after passing through waste water treatment plants.”

  1. www.smarxtdisposal.net
    1. Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag. If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.), crush it or add water to dissolve it.
    2. Add kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds (or any material that mixes with the medication and makes it less appealing for pets and children to eat) to the plastic bag.
    3. Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash. 
    4. Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information (prescription label) from all medication containers before recycling them or throwing them away.
  2. Check for Approved State and Local Collection Programs. Another option is to check for approved state and local collection alternatives such as community based household hazardous waste collection programs. In certain states, you may be able to take your unused medications to your community pharmacy or other location for disposal.
  3. Consult your pharmacist with any questions.

Don’t let your prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) meds get into the wrong hands. Properly safeguard and dispose of them by following these steps:

  1. Store medicine in a hard-to-reach location, preferably locked away. Medsafeglobal.com offers the Med Safe which features a digital lock, holds up to 15 bottles of prescription meds and can be easily attached to existing medicine cabinets or drawers.
  2. Closely monitor the pills you are currently using. Keep track of the number of pills per bottle and how many refills you have for each prescription.
  3. When getting rid of expired and unused meds, be sure to check for disposal instructions on the label or the patient information sheet you received with your prescription.
  4. If your patient information sheet and medicine bottle label don’t provide disposal instructions you can likely dispose of your meds in the garbage. However, the FDA recommend that certain medicines be flushed down the sink or toilet as even the smallest accidental dose of these drugs by the wrong individual could result in harmful side effects that could lead to death. The list can be found by clicking here. (Despite the safety reasons for flushing drugs, some people are questioning the practice because of concerns about trace levels of drug residues found in surface water, such as rivers and lakes, and in some community drinking water supplies. However, the main way drug residues enter water systems is by people taking medications and then naturally passing them through their bodies, says Raanan Bloom, Ph.D., an Environmental Assessment Expert in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Most drugs are not completely absorbed or metabolized by the body, and enter the environment after passing through waste water treatment plants.”*)
  5. Once you have determined that your meds can be safely disposed of in the garbage, you should remove them from their original containers and put them in a sealable plastic bag, can or container. Crush pills and mix all meds with kitty litter or used coffee grounds, to hide them from anyone who may go through your trash and to make them less appealing to those who may try to ingest them. Seal the container and put it in your trash.
  6. When disposing of the original prescription container, make certain that any identifying personal information on the medicine label is scratched off, shredded or destroyed.
  7. Many communities are now offering medication collection and disposal events where you can drop of your unused and expired meds for disposal by state or local agencies, no questions asked. Contact your local government’s refuse and recycling program to find out if there is one in your area.
  8. Still questioning the best disposal method for your meds? Contact your pharmacist with your concerns.

* http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm101653.htm

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