Banner Health Services  

Disposing of unused medications


Butch David is the director of Pharmacy Services at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix.

Question:  News stories are reporting that traces of medication in our drinking water may be dangerous to people, pets and the environment. What is the correct procedure for disposing of unused or out-of-date medications?

Answer:  A lot of us were taught to pour unused medicines down the drain, or flush them down the toilet. But that’s not always the best way to dispose of medications that are unused.

The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy has developed guidelines to help you. The suggestions include:

  • Take unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers and throw them in the trash.
  • Mix prescription drugs with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in impermeable, non-descript containers, such as empty cans or sealable bags. This will further ensure the drugs are not reused.
  • You should only flush medicines down the toilet if the label or patient information instructions specifically tell you to do so.
  • Take advantage of community pharmaceutical take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Some communities have pharmaceutical take-back programs or community solid-waste programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Where these exist, they are a good way to dispose of unused pharmaceuticals.
  • If you are unsure, ask your pharmacist. They can tell you the best way to dispose of your unused medications.
  • The simple message is, "Know before you throw." By learning about your medications, we can work together to keep our drinking water free of unwanted medications.

Page Last Modified: 03/02/2015
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