How To Dispose Of Prescription Drugs


Keep all medication out of the reach of children.


There are several reasons to properly dispose of prescription medication.  Among the most important?  (1) Stop the potential for drug overdose of teens or children looking to get high, and (2) stop groundwater pollution.  However, it’s one thing to know you should dispose of old or unwanted medications and another to figure out the best way to go about it.


Dispose of all drugs properly.

There’s so much potential for misuse and abuse.

Prescription drug abuse is a serious and growing problem.  Often, people become addicted  or misuse certain medications like the pain killers OxyContin and Vicodin.  It many cases, the victims are young children.  In fact, from 2001 to 2008 “the number of accidental drug poisonings among children under five surged 22 percent.” (Source:  Is it any wonder this type of abuse happens when kids can access drugs of all types from a family medicine cabinet?


And let’s not forget groundwater: According to, “An Associated Press investigation last year found trace amounts of many prescription drugs — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — in the drinking water of 41 million Americans.”



With the potential for problems like these it makes sense to take better care in properly disposing of unneeded or unused medication.  Unfortunately, disposing of medication is not always easy.  In some cases, states or local law enforcement agencies offer programs to turn your drugs in.  However, it’s not the same everywhere, which makes the issue more confusing than it might be.


What Should You Do?


(1) Finish your prescription medication per the doctor’s instructions.  This is especially true of certain antibiotics which may fail to kill a bacterial infection if improperly used.  However, most patients are advised to use strong pain killers like those mentioned earlier only for as long as required to manage their pain. The best bet? Check with your pharmacist as you purchase medication to see which rule applies.


(2) Check with your pharmacist about returning drugs.  You can also ask your pharmacist if he or she will take back medication you decide isn’t working for you.  It’s possible they may be able to dispose of or recycle it.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist prior to taking any expired medication.

Chemicals are affected by time and the temperature. Discard expired medication and avoid the risks involved.

(3) Lock it up.  Don’t leave medication in places where kids might find it.  If you have children or teens around this is more important than you might think.  Keep all medications out of reach of children, and if you aren’t ready to dispose of certain drugs lock them safely away.


(4) Don’t flush it!  One thing we can say for certain is avoid flushing drugs down the toilet.  This prevents potentially harmful chemicals from entering the water supply.


Avoid groundwater contamination - keep drugs out of the water supply.

Flushing old drugs may seem easy but there are long-term environmental consequences.

(5) Check with local law enforcement.  Another option is to check with your local police or sheriff’s office to ask if they have a drug disposal system in place.  Or you can call your state or city department of health and ask if there’s a drug disposal or recycling plan that serves your area.


(6) Crush, mix and trash. Yet another option is to dispose of your medication in the trash.  Though the jury is still out on this, the best method appears to be to place the medication in the garbage in a sealed bag or container after crushing it and mixing it with kitty litter, coffee grounds, or sawdust.  However, take care that crushing pills doesn’t result in ingesting the medication by accident.  One idea:  Wear a dust mask and place the pills in a couple of zip lock bags first.  Then use a rolling pin or hammer to crush it.  Note:  You may also want to check with your local garbage company to see if placing medication in the trash violates their waste management guidelines.


(7) Contact those in a position to change things.  Clearly, this is one issue where more awareness may help bring about better solutions.  Make sure lawmakers know about the issues involved.  Consider contacting your local, state, or federal legislator and encourage them to come up with better long-term solutions.  You can click here if you need contact information for a member of the U.S. Congress.


You may also want to read The 9 Step Flu Prevention Etiquette

Want to improve your relationship? Read Fighting Fair: Improving Troubled Relationships


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