How to Safely Dispose of Prescription Medication

It’s risky to hang onto medicine you no longer need. Here’s how to get rid of it.

It’s happened to us all at one time or another: You’re finally cleaning out the medicine cabinet and you stumble upon an ancient prescription bottle. The expiration date may be faded off the label, but you’re sure: This medication is ready to be thrown out.

Keeping unused pills around the house can be dangerous, especially if they’re pills like benzodiazepines (Xanax) or opioids (OxyContin). That’s because these medications can cause accidental overdoses when they’re taken incorrectly. Learn more about how these drugs work.

To keep everybody in your household safe, it’s a good idea to regularly get rid of unused medication. There are three main ways to do it.

#1: Dispose of unused medications at home

Many prescription drugs can be thrown away in the garbage. To do this, first be sure to remove the medication from its original containers, then mix it with something undesirable like coffee grounds, soil, or even cat litter. Put the mixture in a re-sealable bag or container, then discard.

Some medications should be flushed down the toilet. If this is the case, it will say so on your prescription’s instructions. You can also check the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s list of prescription drugs that should be disposed of with flushing. Opioids, like oxycodone and morphine, are included in this list. (For fentanyl patches, as soon as you remove them from your skin, fold the sticky sides together before flushing them.) In most regions, risks to the environment and water supply from flushing medications are negligible.

If you'd rather not flush your medications, at-home disposal kits are a safe choice. These kits include DisposeRx, which is available at Walmart, and Deterra. They’re also great options for when you’re not sure what the pill in question actually is. Safety first.

#2: Participate in drug take-back days in your community

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) organizes National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days every year. Use the DEA’s collection site locator to find a drug disposal drop-off location near you. Many of these locations are law enforcement offices, but there’s no risk of arrest or police involvement on take-back days. The process is designed to be safe, convenient, and anonymous.

Local communities also host their own take-back days throughout the year. Check with local police departments to see if there’s a date coming up at a location near you.

#3: Other ways to drop off unused medications

Select Walgreens pharmacies permanently offer safe medication disposal, which makes the process as simple as dropping your old medication into a mailbox-style kiosk within the store. Use this locator to find a Walgreens near you that offers this service.

Certain DEA facilities and local law enforcement offices also accept medication drop-offs, safely and anonymously, year-round. Use this locator to find a facility near you.

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