How to Dispose of Unused Medications

Written on August 14, 2015 by Staff Veterinarian

dosage forms custom made veterinary capsulesThe FDA has released some guidelines with best practices for disposing of unused medications. This guide is helpful both for human and veterinary medications. We encourage you to take note of the information below.

While in most cases drugs should never be flushed down the drain, there are some medications – Fentanyl patches for example – that SHOULD be flushed due to the danger they pose if children or pets come into contact with the used patches.

Below is some information taken from the FDA page. More information and their full release is here. 

Disposal Instructions:

  • Follow any specific disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanies the medicine. Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
  • Take advantage of programs that allow the public to take unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your local law enforcement agencies to see if they sponsor medicine take-back programs in your community. Contact your city’s or county government’s household trash and recycling service to learn about medication disposal options and guidelines for your area.
  • Transfer unused medicines to collectors registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Authorized sites may be retail, hospital or clinic pharmacies, and law enforcement locations. Some offer mail-back programs or collection receptacles (“drop-boxes”). Visit the DEA’s website or call 1-800-882-9539 for more information and to find an authorized collector in your community.

How to dispose of Medications in the Trash

If no disposal instructions are given on the prescription drug labeling and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash following these steps:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.

Safety Considerations:

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

  • 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 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.
  • When in doubt about proper disposal, ask your pharmacist.

Bernstein says the same disposal methods for prescription drugs could apply to over-the-counter drugs as well.

More information can be found here.

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