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What should I do with medicines I don't need any more or that have expired?

It's important to dispose of medicines properly, whether they were prescribed for you by your healthcare provider or bought over the counter, to avoid harming others or adding drugs to water systems. If medicines aren't disposed of properly, they may be taken by others and cause serious problems.


Most medicines can be thrown in your household trash. But you need to take some precautions before you just throw them away. Some medicines need to be flushed down the sink or toilet.


First, take a look at the label on the medicine for any specific directions for disposal. Don't flush medicines down the toilet or sink unless the label tells you to do so.


If you don't see any instructions, call your city or county government household trash and recycling service, or a local hospital, and ask if your community has a medicine take-back program. Many communities have drop-off sites where you can take unused or expired medicines. If yours does, find out where you can take your medicines for safe disposal and whether the program has any rules about what medicines it accepts. You can also ask your pharmacist if he or she knows about a program in your area.


Another source for information about programs in your area is available online at Search by state or ZIP code to find a pharmacy in your area that has a medicine take-back program.


What's the best way to dispose of medicines in the trash?

If your community doesn't have a medicine take-back program and the drug label doesn't have instructions on how to throw it away, follow these steps to properly dispose of your medicines.


* Take the medicine out of its original container. Mix the tablets, capsules, or liquid with a substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds to make the medicine less appealing to pets and children. It will also make it unrecognizable to anyone who may go through your trash. Don't crush tablets or capsules.


* Put the mixture into a sealable plastic bag, an empty can, or another container that will prevent the medicine from leaking or spilling out of a garbage bag.


* Place the bag into your household trash.


* Remove or scratch out any identifying information on your prescription medicine's original bottle or container before you throw it out. This will help protect your identity and keep your personal health information private.



Why should some medicines be flushed down the sink or toilet but others shouldn't?

Flushing medicines down the toilet is no longer recommended in most cases because they can enter the water system. But certain medicines can be especially harmful, even fatal, if taken by someone other than the person for whom they've been prescribed, so they should be flushed for safety reasons. For example, some powerful pain relievers have instructions for flushing to reduce the chance that someone will take the drug by mistake or steal it. For a list of medicines that should be flushed down the toilet or sink and not placed in the trash, visit


One medicine that has specific instructions for disposal is the fentanyl patch. If you use fentanyl patches, dispose of them right after you take them off your skin. Fold the patch in half so the sticky sides go together. Immediately flush the folded patch down the toilet. Never place patches in household trash where children and pets can find them.