UNITED STATES—According to the survey report conducted by Consumer Reports in 2017, about one-third of Americans haven’t cleaned their medicine cabinets in the past year. With nearly one-fifth that haven’t done it in the last past five years. With these numbers, there are about 200 million pounds of unused medicines every year.

Keeping unused medicines for a long time has many potentials that can affect human welfare and the environment. That’s why it’s essential to emphasize how to safely dispose of unused medicines to prevent adverse effects such as medication abuse and poisoning.

But what is really the right way to dispose of unused medicines safely?

For better understanding, we gather resources from the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the U.S EPA (the United States Environmental Protection Agency) on the best option in disposing of unused medicine.

Primary Options Recommended by the FDA

Two primary options are FDA recommended in properly disposing of unused medicines. These are take-back drug programs and household trash. Though on a very rare occasion, flushing medicine away is an option too.

Take-Back Drug Programs and Facilities

Take-back drug programs and facilities are the most common and best-recommended option for properly and safely disposing of unused or expired medicines. With the U.S DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) help, communities nationwide conduct a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

On this day, the communities will have their drug-take back programs wherein the local law enforcement officials and DEA-authorized collectors can accept unused medicines. In some cases, there is a location near you that you can drop off your unused medicines. While some pharmaceuticals even offer on-site medicine drop-off boxes, disposal kiosks, and mail-back programs to support this campaign.

Throwing Together With Household Trash

If there are cases that a drug-take back program is not available, disposing of medicines together with the household trash is an acceptable method. According to the U.S FDA, medicines, in general, can be thrown into your household trash except those on the FDA list of medicines recommended for flushing.

Prescription medicines and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as pills, drops, syrups, creams, liquids, and patches can be thrown in your household garbage bins. However, there are steps on how to do it safely.

Follow these steps:

  1. The first thing is to remove the drugs from the original container then throw the packaging away.
  2. The second is to cover, remove, or scratch the label found in the container, such as personal details, to avoid identity theft.
  3. The third is to prepare a new container like ziplock bags, empty can, or other container types.
  4. Fourth is to mix the drugs with something undesirable, such as kitty litter, coffee grounds, and even dirt. This will make the medicine less appealing in any case, the trash goes to a landfill, and someone might intentionally search the grounds.
  5. Lastly, throw the bag of the mixture in the trash can.

Flush The Medicine Away

In some cases, some medicines are listed under the FDA list of medicines recommended for flushing. If your unused and expired medicines fall into the category, then you can go ahead and flush the medicine down the drain.

It’s best to remember that medicines on the flush list can primarily be used for potential medication abuse. Also, those types of drugs that, if taken inappropriately, can cause death due to overdosage. The best example of a medicine that can be flush right away is the ones that contain an opioid such as fentanyl transdermal system or also known as a fentanyl patch.

The best thing to remember is to never flush your medicine unless it is on the flush list. And if you don’t have access to the FDA flush list, it’s best to check the medication label as they come with a set of instructions in the label on how to properly dispose of it.

How To Reduce The Need To Dispose of Unused Medicines

There are always methods and safe processes to dispose of unused medicine; however, it’s best to emphasize that disposing of unused medicine can be prevented or reduced. Take it from one expert and a pollution prevention specialist in Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, Sarah Zack. We can reduce the need to dispose of medicines if we avoid asking for auto-refills before running out. Also, it’s best to wait for the refill prescription from your physician.


There’s a significant number of Americans who have unused prescription medicines in their keepings, and there’s a high possibility that storing these medicines can lead to improper usage. Hence, it’s essential to dispose of unused and expired medicines correctly. There are recommended options to properly dispose of unused medicine, such as participating in a drug-take back program and throwing it together with household trash.

At some point, flushing them down the drain is also an option. It’s best to remember that following the proper disposal can prevent medication abuse and poisoning. Even more so, it helps prevent both human welfare and environmental effects.