Flushing medicine down the toilet or washing it down the drain can be harmful to the environment. There’s a safer way to get rid of the expired medicine cluttering up the bathroom cabinet. There are proper ways to dispose unused medication in a way that ensures it won’t fall into the wrong hands or contaminate the groundwater in the area.


Proper medication disposal

  • Don’t flush most medications: In recent ages, it has been discovered that flushing certain medications that contain hormones, antibiotics, and other substances can lead to contamination of groundwater and other detrimental effects. Instead of flushing these medications, the safest way to dispose of them is to disguise them and then throw them away with the trash. It is recommended to read the packaging on the medication and look for instructions on safe disposal. There are certain medications considered to be too potentially harmful to throw out with the trash. If the medication is a highly controlled substance that could cause severe medical harm to someone else if they were to ingest it, the FDA recommends flushing it or disposing of it in another way. If one is not sure whether the medication to be gotten rid of is considered to be highly controlled, do ask from the pharmacist what to do.
  • Mix medications with kitty litter or coffee grounds: Mixing either pills or liquids with an undesirable substance like kitty litter or coffee grounds will make it much less likely that a child or household pet will find and ingest the substance. If the pills are large or brightly colored, crush them or dissolve them before mixing them with another substance.
  • Place the mixture in a plastic bag and seal it. This extra level of protection is another way to make sure the medication won’t fall into the wrong hands.
  • Throw the bag away with the trash. Once the medication is thoroughly disguised and sealed in a bag, simply throw it out with the trash.
  • Remove the labels from the empty medicine bottles. Scrape off the labels so that the print is illegible before throwing the bottles away. This measure is taken to protect one’s identity.


  • Disposal in Household Trash: If no medicine take-back programs or DEA-authorized collectors are available in the area, and there are no specific disposal instructions on the label, such as flushing as described below, one can also follow these simple steps to dispose of most medicines in the household trash:
    • Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds;
    • Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag
    • Throw the container in the household trash;
  • Scratch out all personal information on the prescription label of the empty pill bottle or empty medicine packaging to make it unreadable, then dispose of the container.
  • Flushing of Certain Medicines: There is a small number of medicines that may be especially harmful and, in some cases, fatal with just one dose if they are used by someone other than the person for whom the medicine was prescribed. To prevent accidental ingestion of these potentially dangerous medicines by children, or pets, it is recommended that these medicines be disposed of quickly through a medicine take-back program or by transferring them to a DEA-authorized collector. If these disposal options are not readily available, it is recommended that these medicines be flushed down the sink or toilet as soon as they are no longer needed.

For example, patients in assisted living communities using fentanyl patches for pain should immediately flush their used or unneeded patches down the toilet. When one dispose of these patches and certain other powerful medicines down the sink or toilet, there is need to keep others safe by ensuring that these medicines cannot be used again or accidentally ingested and cause harm. One may have also received disposal directions when picked up the prescription. The prescribing information can be of usefulness:

Information for Patients and Caregivers

  • Patient Information
  • Patient Counseling Information
  • Safety and Handling Instructions
  • Medication Guide


Proper medication disposal

  • Determine whether the medication is considered potentially dangerous. The FDA has published a list of medications that it recommends against throwing away with the trash. If someone were to find and ingest these medications, he or she could face serious health concerns.
  • Look into community drug disposal programs. Many communities have programs that allow one to bring in unused medications so that they can be disposed of safely and properly.
  • Call a local pharmacy to find out if they can dispose of the medication. In some states, although not all, they have an unused medication disposal program that the pharmacies themselves may use to dispose of outdated medications.
  • Consider donating the unused medications to third world countries. There are organizations in charge of that online. Alternatively, consider contacting local Emergency Rooms, occasionally they will collect usable supplies and medications for donation out country.
  • Call the local trash service – they might have household waste facilities that will incinerate the medication.
  • Contact the local hospital or medical center who will place unused medications into their Bio Hazard containers for incineration. All hospitals have this option so there is never a need to toss or flush unused medication.
  • Flush if one has no other option. If the medication is on the FDA’s list of medications that should not be thrown out, and one has no other immediate way of disposing of them, flushing might be the best option.
  • Sometimes there will be a conflict between the instructions and the guidelines given in the article. Some medications are accompanied by paperwork that says not to flush, for example, but the FDA recommends flushing that medication. There is no clear consensus on how to dispose of the medication in question.
  • If one is worried about the privacy, remove confidential information from old prescription medication containers before disposing them. Take an extra minute to destroy the label that describes the medication, name, doctor’s name, the prescription number, pharmacy’s name, and in many cases medical condition. One wouldn’t want any of this information made public by someone sifting the trash.
  • If one has an ongoing medical condition that isn’t insured for, or expect not to be insure for in the future, consider saving the medication instead of disposing of it. That way one’ll have it for a rainy day; many people have ongoing knee and back injuries which they are not insured for, but who could benefit from prescription pain medication.


This is new public awareness campaign that is founded on a unique public-private partnership between the APhA and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials joined together at the APhA annual convention to announce the launch of SMARxT Disposal, a program to educate consumers about new prescription drug-disposal guidelines. Under the guidelines released by APhA and supported by the USFWS, EPA, White House Office of National Drug Control policy, and other federal agencies, APhA recommends that most medications be thrown away and not flushed. The goal of the SMARxT Disposal program is to raise awareness about the potential environmental impact of both Rx and OTC medications as well as to disseminate the new disposal guidelines. According to officials with the SMARxT Disposal program, pharmacies will serve as the key educational intervention point. If take-back programs are not an option, most medications can be disposed of in your household trash.

Proper medication disposalSMARxT Disposal program targets all American medication consumers to raise their awareness about potential environmental impacts from improperly disposed of medications and to provide them with proactive guidance through proper disposal alternatives. SMARXT DISPOSALTM simplifies medication disposal, makes it relevant and empowers the target audience to become part of the solution to this complex challenge.

The campaign goals are SMARxT Disposal program seeks to to raise the target audience’s issue awareness while promoting environmentally-friendly consumer behaviors through diverse communication networks. Campaign material integration into government agency outreach, pharmacies and pharmaceutical manufacturers’ packaging and promotions will expose millions and will direct them to additional prevention tips via the campaign web site. Medication consumers are main targets. Medication therapy is a foundation of western medicine and has provided our society with significant quality of life benefits. Additionally, virtually every American is a medication consumer. Scientific research indicates that current consumer advice for medication disposal may be contributing to environmental harm. Also, most consumers are not aware of the potential environmental impacts of improperly disposed of medications. The basis of SMARxT Disposal program seeks to elevate the medication disposal issue, dissuade consumers from ‘flushing’ and provide them with a more environmentally-friendly alternative. Three steps can make a huge difference in safeguarding lives and protecting the environment:

  • Do not flush unused medications, except when expressly instructed by the labels. Some medications have a high abuse potential and flushing is the only way to discard them.
  • When tossing unused medications, ensure children and pet protection by crushing or dissolving medications in water (same applies to liquid) and mixing with kitty litter or a solid kitchen substance, then placing in a sealed plastic bag to reduce the risk of potential poisoning. Also, remove and destroy all identifying personal information (prescription label) from the medication container. Another alternative is to check for approved state and local collection programs or with area hazardous waste facilities. In certain states, one may be able to take your unused medications to your community pharmacy.
  • Consult the pharmacist with any questions. How will this campaign be delivered? Careful attention was given to designing a national campaign that could unite diverse interests from the allied health care profession and conservation community to participate, collaborate and succeed locally.

Pharmacies will serve as the key educational intervention point and will be supported with materials to promote environmentally-responsible consumer behaviors through proper medication disposal. One of the primary resources will be a campaign website, which will focus on highlighting the steps mentioned earlier as ways that consumers can live sustainably and ensure that their everyday actions will safeguard lives and protect the environment. Also, synergistic promotions between two different professions, state and federal agencies, conservation organizations and others will help to elevate the issue. SMARxT Disposal program recommends following these steps:

  • Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag. If the medication is a solid (pill,liquid capsule, etc.), add water to dissolve it.
  • Add kitty litter, sawdust or coffee grounds (or any material that mixes with the medication and makes it less appealing for pets and children to eat)to the plastic bag.
  • Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.
  • Remove and destroy all identifying personal information on the prescription label from all medication containers before recycling them or throwing them away.

Responsible medication disposal has changed over the ages. It’s important to follow any disposal instructions on the medication package, which will have the most current recommendations. If there aren’t any, follow the above advice.