Proper disposal of prescription drugs

Updated March 23, 2017

Prescription drugs should be discarded if they are no longer needed by the patient or if they pose an abuse risk to those who have access to them. Disposing of these drugs properly is necessary to ensure the medication does not affect the population's water supply. Proper disposal also ensures humans or animals will not obtain prescription drugs from the trash. Prescriptions can be mixed with inedible substances and thrown in the trash or surrendered at local disposal centres.

Water Disposal

The Food and Drug Administration recommends only a limited number of drugs be flushed down the toilet to prevent abuse. The label on your medication will instruct you to dispose of unused pills by flushing them down the toilet if this is the FDA's recommendation. If the label does not state how pills should be disposed of, do not flush them down the toilet. Medications that are flushed down the toilet or thrown down the sink can affect the population's water supply. In 2008, an investigation by the Associated Press found trace amounts of drugs such as mood stabilisers, sex hormones and antibiotics in water supplies across the United States.

Trash Disposal

Put your unused prescription medications in the trash to safely dispose of them. The FDA recommends mixing the pills with inedible substances such as used coffee grounds, cat litter or sawdust to prevent a child or animal from accidentally ingesting pills. This method also thwarts drug abusers who scavenge trash bins for discarded medication. Take the pills out of the prescription bottle and combine them with an undesirable material in a disposable container to prevent leakage. A jar, sealable plastic bag or tub with a lid can be used to hold the mixture. Dispose of the container with your trash. Before you throw away the prescription container, remove any identifying information such as the prescription number, medication name, or patient name and address. Peel off the label, cover the information with a black permanent marker or wrap the container in duct tape to make the information unreadable.

Authorised Disposal Centers

Some communities have local disposal centres or programs that take unused prescription drugs and dispose of them properly. Contact your city or county trash and recycling department to see if a program or centre exists in your area. The office will be able to give you specific information for proper drug disposal in your area. Some pharmacies also take back unused drugs for proper disposal.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Marissa Willman is a Palm Springs-based travel journalist and content writer. She has been writing professionally since 2007 for such publications as, and Palm Springs Life. Willman is also the local guide for the Palm Springs section of travel website Willman holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from California State University, Fullerton.