How to safely dispose of your old, unused medications

Published by Medicare Made Clear®

Old medications that sit forgotten in medicine cabinets or drawers can be hazardous for you and for others. Taken incorrectly or accidentally can cause real harm, especially if ingested by children or pets.

It’s best to get rid of unused, expired or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medications as soon as they’re no longer needed. But it’s not always easy to know what to do with them.

Here are 3 ways to dispose of old medications safely.

1. Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) sponsors National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day each April and October to remind and encourage Americans to clean out their medicine cabinets. On Take-Back Day, you can take unwanted medications to convenient, local collection sites for safe disposal.

Collection sites may include pharmacies, police departments and community organizations. To learn about National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day events and locations in your community, watch for ads and billboards or listen for announcements on local TV and radio news programs. You may also search for Take-Back Day sites on the DEA web site.

2. Year-round medication collection sites

You don’t have to wait for an official Take-Back Day to dispose of old medications responsibly and anonymously. Many communities have collection sites that operate all year long. The DEA partners with pharmacies to offer the service on an ongoing basis. Look for medication collection sites near you.

3. Household trash

If you don’t have access to a medication collection site, you may put some medications in your regular household trash. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recommends mixing whole tablets or pills (not crushed) with dirt, kitty litter, used coffee grounds or another unpleasant substance. Wrap and seal it all in a plastic bag before putting it in the garbage.

Certain very dangerous drugs like narcotic pain pills and other controlled substances should never be put in with household trash. However, they do need to be removed from the home immediately once they’re no longer needed. If you’re unable to take dangerous drugs to a medication collection site, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about safe disposal methods or follow the FDA drug disposal guidelines.

Finally, when tossing out or recycling pill bottles or other packaging, be sure to remove and rip up prescription labels or completely scratch out any personal information beforehand.

About Medicare Made Clear

Medicare Made Clear brought to you by UnitedHealthcare provides Medicare education so you can make informed decisions about your health and Medicare coverage.

Get the latest

Boost your Medicare know-how with the reliable, up-to-date news and information delivered to your inbox every month.

*All fields required