Arthritis Today

Discarding Expired Medication

How to safely throw away unused and expired medications.


It’s time to give your medicine cabinet a good cleaning. But what do you do with the expired pills and liquids or patches and other products you no longer use?  Follow this disposal guide to protect your family, pets and the environment.

Follow directions.  Check the drug label or patient information that accompanied your prescription and follow any special instructions given.

Take to a central location. Call your local law enforcement agencies to see if they sponsor a drug take-back program in your community. Many communities offer programs that allow the public take unused medications to a central location to be disposed of properly.

Call your trash pick-up or recycling program.  Your trash collection service or local recycling center can let you know about safe-disposal regulations and guidelines for your area. This is particularly important if you are disposing of inhalers, which can be dangerous if punctured or burned.

Check with the DEA. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registers hospitals, pharmacies and  law enforcement locations in some areas to collect unused medications.  To find out if there is an authorized collector in your community call the DEA 1-800-882-9539 or visit their website.

Know what to flush. Some unused drugs, including narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances, are best disposed of quickly –down the toilet. Flushing reduces the risk of overdose, abuse or potentially deadly ingestion by a child or household pet.  Check the FDA website for a full list of drugs the FDA recommends flushing.  

Prepare for the trash. If the drug label has no disposal instructions and there are no take-back programs in your area, dispose of unused medications with your household trash. But first, put them into a sealable plastic bag (if the medication is a pill or capsule, dissolve it in a bit of water first.) Then, add kitty litter or used coffee grounds to the bag before tossing it in the household trash. The granules will absorb the liquid and make it less attractive to pets and small children and less recognizable to people searching your trash for drugs.

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