Safe Disposal

Safe Disposal of Unused, Old, or Expired Medications

It’s always best to get rid of medications that are no longer in use or that have exceeded their expiration date, as these are considered hazardous substances. You may think this is because they lose potency, but even expired medications can retain full or nearly full effectiveness for years, and you don’t want them lingering in the home, where they could pose a risk to children or pets, or serve as a temptation for substance abuse.

How can you safely and responsibly dispose of unused, old, or expired medications? There are several appropriate options.

Drug Take-Back

The best way to dispose of unused prescription medications that are no longer needed is to locate a drug take-back facility or event where you can drop them off. The availability of this option will vary among states and even cities. To learn about take-back programs in your area, simply ask your local pharmacist or contact local trash and recycling services.

Many municipalities host household hazardous waste collection events where you can safely dispose of unused medications. Just be sure to remove or black out any identifying information on prescription medication containers before you dispose of them, to protect your identity.


If drug take-back isn’t offered in your area or you can’t wait for an upcoming disposal event, you’ll be glad to hear that certain medications can be safely flushed down the toilet. You can determine if your medications are safe and recommended for flushing by checking the FDA flush list.

Disposal in Household Trash

If your medications are not safe for flushing and drug take-back is not an option, your last resort is to dispose of unused and unwanted medication in the household trash. Simply remove pills from their container (whole—do not crush) and dump them in a plastic container or baggie with dirt, cat litter, used coffee grounds, or another undesirable substance.

Seal the container or bag and throw it in the trash can. Be sure to remove or black out prescription labels before disposing of original containers, to protect your privacy. Learn more about safe and responsible disposal of unused, old, or expired medications here.