Safetote Rx

How to Safely Dispose of Medications

How to Safely Dispose of Medications

At some point or the other we have all taken medication to treat a disorder or illness. Usually these medicines end up sitting our medicine cabinet long after they have expired or we no longer have any use of them. Although the medications are not harmful after their expiration date, it is prudent to ensure that they are disposed properly.

The disposal method will depend on the type of medication. For instance, when it comes to liquid medication or suspension, you can dispose them by mixing them with coffee grounds, kitty litter or garden soil. Once you finish mixing, put the concoction into a sealed container and throw it out with your normal household trash.

However, of late, there are traces of medications being found in ground water sources. Scientists have ascertained that this could pose risk to humans as well as animals. Nonetheless, there is no concrete proof the traces of medication in water can cause harm to humans. However, there are some medications that the FDA advocates flushing down the toilet or draining down the sink. The UD FDA believes that this method of disposal is necessary as the risk of accidental ingestion far outweighs the risk of contamination of ground water. In some cities in the US, there are “drug take back” programs that help people to dispose unwanted and expired drugs. You would need to call the Department of Sanitation for your area to get more information about these programs.

Most drugs should be disposed in the following manner;

  • Remove all identifying information from the bottle. In this day of increasing identity theft, one should never make personal information, including health information available to strangers. Before disposing of a pill bottle, conceal all personal information, including your name and address, the doctor’s name, and the prescription number, by thoroughly marking through the information with dark ink or a black permanent marker.
  • Next, remove the pills from the bottle and mix them (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance, such as kitty litter or old coffee grounds. Put this mixture in a sealed container, ex. a sealed plastic bag.
  • Throw the sealed container and the pill bottle in the trash. Increasingly, city and county governments are offering citizens opportunities to get rid of prescription drugs that are not labeled “flushed.” Contact your city or county government’s recycling and waste service to find out if a drug return or return program is available in your community. In addition, the US Department of Justice, The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), sponsors a national day of drug takeback in conjunction with state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.. Contact your local agencies or the Department of Justice website to get details about this annual event.

The Dangers of Drain Disposal

Municipal wastewater treatment systems aren’t designed to properly sanitize the active ingredients of these medications from city water, so washing these medications down the drain is not a safe option. Furthermore, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if your home utilizes a septic tank, prescription or over-the-counter drugs that are flushed down the toilet can leach into the ground and seep into ground water. Specifically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, hormones, and contraceptives can have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem of lakes and freshwater bays.

A study conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has shown that “low concentrations of alkylphenols [the ingredient in many spermicides] and antidepressants in water have a measurable effect on fish responses and alter reproductive behaviors.” Keeping unused medication in a bathroom medicine cupboard or kitchen cabinet is no better a solution however, as accidental poisoning from medicines stowed away in the home unsecured is the second leading cause of death in both infants and adults.

Although, there are some medications that need to be flushed down the toilet or drained down the sink because there is a risk that they can be taken by someone else. Usually if you consult your local pharmacist, he or she will be able to tell you which medications need to be disposed in this manner. Or else, you can up Food and Drug Administration and get this information. The FDA has set up a special telephone line for this purpose.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that the following drugs be disposed of by flushing:

  • Actiq, oral transmucosal lozenge
  • Avinza, capsules (extended release)
  • Daytrana, transdermal patch system
  • Demerol, tablets
  • Demerol, oral solution
  • Diastat/Diastat AcuDial, rectal gel
  • Dilaudid, tablets
  • Dilaudid, oral liquid
  • Dolophine Hydrochloride, tablets
  • Duragesic, patch (extended release)
  • Embeda, capsules (extended release)
  • Exalgo, tablets (extended release)
  • Fentora, tablets (buccal)
  • Kadian, capsules (extended release)
  • Methadone Hydrochloride, oral solution
  • Methadose, tablets
  • Morphine Sulfate, tablets (immediate release)
  • Morphine Sulfate, oral solution
  • MS Contin, tablets (extended release)
  • Onsolis, soluble film (buccal)
  • Opana, tablets (immediate release)
  • Opana ER, tablets (extended release)
  • Oramorph SR, tablets (sustained release)
  • Oxycontin, tablets (extended release)
  • Percocet, tablets
  • Percodan, tablets
  • Xyrem, oral solution

Please be aware that some of these prescription medications have generic versions. Additionally, the FDA continually evaluates medications for safety risks and updates the above list as needed. Proper disposal of medicines will keep your family and pets safe, and is an excellent prevention tool against drug re-sale and trafficking, as well as theft and drug abuse.


Once you’ve organized your home medications and supplies, an occasional check is all that’s necessary. Discard left over medications as soon as you finish and regularly check the expiration date of over-the-counter medications. Proper storage and disposal will protect your family and the environment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>