Medically reviewed by Neil Chatterjee, MD
Drug diversion (prescription use by unprescribed individuals) is one of the largest drivers of prescription pill abuse in the United States. Much of the time, these drugs come from a household’s medicine cabinet.
No matter how much you trust your family and friends, you owe it to them to safely dispose of your unused medications. Doing so is easy—but how you do it might be different depending on the type of drug that you’re disposing.
When in doubt,always check your medication’s packaging for disposal instructions, or ask your pharmacist or physician.
You can often find drug collection units in your local community at no cost. Many hospitals and local governments fund these programs to make disposing risky medications simple. You can search for units in your area here.
If you can’t easily find or access a drug collection unit in your area, you may be able to flush your pills down the sink or toilet. Just be sure to throw out your pill bottle/packaging in the regular trash—after scratching out your personal information. For certain drugs, this is an effective way to make sure that your pills are totally inaccessible.
It’s important to note that many drugs cannot be flushed. The FDA has a simple flush list to determine whether your prescription is flushable—always check with this list before disposing your meds.
Worried about the water supply? The FDA researched the effects of flushing and found a negligible impact on the environment. Still, if you can find a drug collection unit, that's usually a safer option.
If take-back programs are unavailable and your prescription isn’t on the flush list, the FDA recommends simply throwing away your pills in your household trash.
To throw away a prescription, first take your medication out of its container and place it in something sealable (like a Ziplock bag or bottle). Fill the sealable container with something undesirable—like coffee grounds or cat litter—then, throw out the container along with the medication’s original packaging. You can also add a bit of vinegar to dissolve pills, or flour to make liquids less usable. Be sure to scratch out any personally identifiable information on the original packaging.
You can learn more about safe disposal of drugs on the FDA’s website.
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