Whether prescribed or over-the-counter, sometimes a drug doesn’t work for you, you only need a limited supply, or it expires. What do you do to safely dispose of the unused, unwanted, or expired pharmaceuticals or other medications? If your first thought is to just toss it in the trash or flush it down the toilet, stop and consider a prescription drug take-back program instead.

Unused drugs can contaminate the environment and water systems and even endanger plant and animal life. And leaving them in your medicine cabinet or other location in the home may lead to accidental ingestions, which can pose risks, especially to children and pets. Sadly, around 60,000 emergency room visits and 450,000 calls to poison centers are made each year due to children under six accidentally ingesting medications.

A much better option is available to safely dispose of medications: prescription drug take-back programs.

Throughout the U.S., you can find drug take-back programs that collect unused medications. For example, there are permanent collection sites for controlled substances and non-controlled substances. Search for the nearest location for you here: Controlled Substance Public Disposal Locations or by calling 1.800.882.9539.

Or, watch for periodic take-back events, such as National Drug Take-Back Day, in your community. For Drug Take Back Days, temporary collection sites are set up to help communities safely dispose of prescription drugs, especially those with abuse potential. While local law enforcement agencies often sponsor medication take-back events, local waste management authorities can also often provide information on upcoming events.

Prescription Drug Take-Back

If you do search for a prescription drug take-back location, you’ll be directed to a collection site that safely and security gathers and then disposes of the unused or expired pharmaceuticals. These sites also collect controlled substances to help ensure they are safely removed from the community. Authorized sites are often found at hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, law enforcement facilities, or municipal buildings. Many offer convenient drop-off boxes, and some even offer mail-back programs.

These types of disposal options for prescription drug take-back are the best way to ensure old or unused medications aren’t misused, stolen, or lead to environmental contamination.

Due to medication that’s been flushed as well as excreted, trace amounts of medications have later been found in drinking water, and studies have found those drugs in animals and humans who have never taken them directly. Medication thrown in the trash has also been found to be used illegally.

Take Back Programs for Medications

Before dropping off any unused medications in a safe disposal box or at a drug take-back event, make sure the medicine is accepted. For example, most do not accept:

Most do accept medications like:

However, it’s important to double-check to ensure you are only dropping off allowable medications.

Pharmaceutical Take-Back Programs

Pharmaceutical take-back programs then destroy the old or unused over-the-counter and prescription medications, including prescribed controlled substances like Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax, Ritalin, and Adderall. They can be deposited in their original containers (just remember to remove any personally identifying information [name, address, phone number, etc.] before dropping it off by, for example, striking out the info with a black sharpie). Or, to save space, you can combine pills and capsules into one bag or container. Avoid dropping off excessive packaging, however, such as cardboard boxes that can be recycled.



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