What to Do with Unused or Expired Medications

Drugs play a vital role in the treatment of numerous medical conditions, diseases and infections. While we are usually instructed to take all of the medicine prescribed, there are occasions when the medication is no longer needed. So what should we do with the medication we no longer take? Knowing how to properly dispose of medications will reduce the potential harm of accidental exposure or deliberate abuse. Here are some options, guidelines, and common directions for discarding unused or expired medications (contact your pharmacist to help determine if your medication has expired).

Guidelines for Proper disposal of Expired Drugs

A general consideration prior to disposing of your unused medication is to remove any identifying information from the prescription label. This will help protect your privacy. Additionally, do not give your leftover medication to anyone else. Your doctor prescribed the medication for you and it could be dangerous for someone else.

The following are guidelines created by FDA to properly dispose of unused or expired medications:

  • Do NOT flush medications down the sink or toilet unless the prescription drug label or patient information provided to you states to do so.
  • Always follow any specific disposal instructions provided on the drug prescription or patient information leaflet for proper disposal.
  • Find if there is a community drug take-back program available in your area.
  • Contact your pharmacist for safe disposal of expired drugs.

You may also find instructions on how to dispose of prescription drugs at DailyMed:

  1. Search by the drug name

  2. Locate the prescribing information (PI)

  3. The following sections in the PI may provide information for disposal:

  • Information for Patients and Caregivers
  • Patient Information
  • Patient Counseling Information
  • Safety and Handling Instructions
  • Medication Guide

In the absence of any specific drug disposal instructions, throw the expired drugs in the household trash following these FDA proposed steps:

  1. Remove the drugs from their original containers and crush them.

  2. Mix the crushed medication with an unwanted substance, such as kitty litter, dirt or used coffee grounds (this makes the drug less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through the trash seeking drugs).

  3. Place the mixture in a closed container or sealable bag to avoid the drug leaking or spreading in the trash box.

  4. Throw the container in the trash box.

There are some occasions when unused medications need to be disposed of quickly because they could be harmful, even fatal, to another person or to pets.  These medications should be disposed of through a medicine take-back program or through a DEA-authorized collector as quickly as possible. If these options are not available, the FDA recommends to flush down the sink or toilet these drugs when they are no longer needed. The link provided will take you to the list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing.

Additional guidance can be found at the FDA’s webpage on Safe Disposal of Medicines.

Thank you for reading.

Mr. Glen, R.Ph.