Safe Drug Disposal Instructions

Taking your unused or expired prescription and over the counter (OTC) medicines to an RXcycle event is the safest and most environmentally protective way to dispose of them. Until a year-round program is in place, citizens must either store the medications safely (in a locked cabinet where they cannot be accessed by anyone but the patient) until they are able to take them to an RXcycle event, or safely disposed of in their home. If you are unable to take medications to an event, follow these "last resort" steps before carefully disposing of your medicines in the trash. Disguising your medicines before disposing them in the garbage is critical to prevent children or pets from getting the medicines and accidentally ingesting them.

FDA disposal instructions if you are unable to participate in an RXcycle event:

For chemotherapy drugs, contact your prescribing medical office as they may accept return of those medicines.
For all other drugs:

  1. Do not flush medicines down the toilet or drain.
  2. Remove them from their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds, dirt or kitty litter (this makes the drug less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through the trash seeking drugs).
  3. Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.

The FDA’s Ilisa Bernstein, Pharm.D., J.D., offers a few more tips:

  1. 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.
  2. Do not give your medicine to friends. Doctors prescribe medicines based on your specific symptoms and medical history. Something that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.
  3. When in doubt about proper disposal, ask your pharmacist.

Bernstein says the same disposal methods for prescription drugs apply to patches and liquids as well. Liquids are allowed in landfills if they are mixed with an undesirable substance and placed in a sealed container (plastic coffee can) or sealed plastic bag.

According to the FDA and the DEA, home disposal is a "last resort" - it does not adequately protect people and our environment from exposure to potentially dangerous drugs.

The latest news:

The Association of Metropolitan of Water Agencies asks federal agencies for clear communication concerning disposal guidelines in the home. Read about it by clicking here.