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Published on December 05, 2012

Medication Disposal

Kelly Schott, Director of Pharmacy
Avera Sacred Heart Hospital

Medicines play an important role in treating many conditions and diseases, but when they are no longer needed it’s important to dispose of them properly to avoid harm to others. Below, we list some disposal options and some special disposal instructions for you to consider when throwing out expired, unwanted or unused medicines.

Medicine Take-Back Programs

Medicine take-back programs for disposal are a good way to remove expired, unwanted or unused medicines from the home and reduce the chance that others may accidentally take the medicine. Contact your local pharmacist to find out when the next medicine take-back program in your community will be held.

Disposal in Household Trash

If no medicine take-back program is available in your area, consumers can also follow these simple steps to dispose of most medicines in the household trash:

  • Mix medicines (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds.
  • Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
  • Throw the container in your household trash.

Flushing of Certain Medicines

There is a small number of medicines that may be especially harmful and, in some cases, fatal in a single dose if they are used by someone other than for whom the medicine was prescribed. For this reason, a few medicines have specific disposal instructions that indicate they should be flushed down the sink or toilet when they are no longer needed and when they cannot be disposed of through a drug take-back program. When you dispose of these medicines down the sink or toilet, they cannot be accidently used by children, pets, or anyone else. Look on for a list of these medications.

You may have also received disposal directions for these medicines when you picked up your prescription. You can find instructions on how to dispose of specific medicines at 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

FDA remains committed to working with other Federal agencies and medicine manufacturers to develop alternative, safe disposal policies. If you have additional questions about disposing of your medicine, please contact the Food & Drug Administration at 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332).