How to donate medications

Updated July 20, 2017

The cost of prescription drugs increases every year. At least 37 states have enacted legislation since 1997 that allows patients and health care professionals to donate unexpired, unused prescription medications. These prescriptions are then redispensed to patients lacking sufficient insurance or resources to obtain their medications. An additional smaller benefit of this practice is the reduction of environmental contamination, which is becoming a significant problem due to improper disposal of unused pharmaceuticals.

Call one of your local pharmacies or the pharmacy department of a nearby hospital to locate health care facilities and pharmacies in your area accepting recycled pharmaceuticals. You can also find this information through the Internet, as most states and many municipalities publish information about donating medications for redispensing online.

Donate only unopened and unexpired prescription medicine that you do not need. Unsealed or previously opened containers of medication are not eligible. The only exception is for unit dose packages. In this case, the outside package may have been opened, but the blister packs containing the tablets or capsules must be intact.

Take unused, unneeded or expired medications to an approved drug-disposal site if no recycling or drug take-back programs operate in your area. If no drug-disposal facilities exist in your area, do not flush the medicine down the toilet, as this will only add to contamination of local water supplies. Instead, take the drugs designated for disposal out of their containers, crush tablets or empty out capsules, and mix them with coffee grounds or cat litter. Then package the mixture into empty cans or resealable impermeable bags, and throw the bags in the trash.


If your goal as a consumer is to help clean up and protect your local water supply or to simply clean out your medicine cabinet, the drug donation programs will not meet your needs. Consumer prescription drug donation programs cannot be used for controlled substances. In the United States, these are prescription medications falling under the jurisdiction of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and include most prescription pain relievers, sleep medicines, anti-anxiety agents and testosterone products. Each label will have a C-II, C-III or C-IV displayed to designate this status. From time to time, the DEA has take-back programs for this class of medications, but otherwise you will need to follow directions in Step 3 to legally dispose of controlled substances. An alternative is to ask your prescribing physician or pharmacist to dispose of these medications for you. Whatever you do to donate or dispose of your unused prescription drugs, don't try to circumvent the law. Look up pertinent state, federal and local laws about this subject before you begin. Violations may incur serious civil and even criminal penalties.

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About the Author

Michael Gladson has been writing for clinical research and for the pharmaceutical industry since 1991. He has published articles in the "Journal of Clinical Psychiatry" and has written monographs for medications for Eli Lilly and Company. He holds a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy from the University of Georgia and a Doctor of Medicine from the Medical College of Georgia.