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How to Properly Discard Medications

Did you know that discarding medications in the trash or flushing them down the toilet can be harmful? Learn correct ways to safely and properly dispose of your medications.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD
4-minute read
Episode #191

What’s Wrong With Flushing Them Down the Toilet or Sink? 

Doing so causes minute amounts of the drug to enter our local lakes, streams, and rivers, and hence, it can also enter our drinking water supply. Although drinking water contains a very trace amount of these drug residues, studies so far do not show any harm. But our goal is still to prevent this from happening as much as humanly possible; let's do what we can to protect our environment.

If there is no other way to locally dispose of medications in your area, certain medications may be flushed down our toilet or sink, and are labeled as such (either on the bottle or with the patient info inserts that accompany the medications when filled by your pharmacy). In fact, certain high risk medications (like some narcotics) may be preferably flushed, rather than thrown in the trash,  since they can be life-threatening if ingested even once (even if in kitty litter) by a pet or child. Here’s a link to that current list of medications that are deemed flushable.

How to Properly Discard of Medications

1.       Read the drug label or patient info leaflet dispensed by your pharmacy for instructions on how to safely dispose of your specific medications. If you have discarded the leaflet or are unable to locate it, medication labels and instructions on disposal for each drug can also be found on the following website.

2.       Contact your local (often City or County) waste management program to inquire about your locally specific options—this number may be found on your trash or utility bills, or can be searched online by simply typing the name of your city and then then words “waste management” right after. 

3.       Contact your local DEA-authorized collector—these are licensed entities (such as pharmacies, hospitals, or law enforcement sites) that collect medications on behalf of the DEA. You can search your local DEA-authorized disposal site using the following link.  

4.       Contact your local law enforcement—they may be able to guide you on how to access community medicine take-back programs in your area.

5.       Contact your local pharmacy—they may also be able to guide you on your options for discarding medications safely.

Note:  These rules apply to all medications, including over-the-counter, liquids, inhalers, injectables, and medicated patches. 

Share your ideas and learn more quick and dirty tips with us on the House Call Doctor’s Facebook and Twitter pages!  You can even find me on Pinterest.

Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

Trash pills image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.