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Safe prescription medication disposal options

GEHA | January 30, 2019

Find out the safest way you can dispose of your prescription medications.
Prescription medication can be used to treat various conditions, but it can also be misused if it gets in the hands of the wrong person. Whether your medication is expired or no longer needed, there are specific precautions to take for safe disposal. To prevent this medication from ending up in the wrong hands or being re-sold, consider these options for prescription medication disposal: 
  • Participate in a medication take-back program
  • Dispose of the medication in your household trash
  • Flush the medication down the toilet, depending on the medication type
Take-back programs
A few times a year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) promotes National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. The nationwide event provides a safe and convenient way to dispose unwanted prescription drugs. Visit the DEA website to find a collection site near you. 

Household trash disposal  Medication prescription disposal
Nearly all medications can be disposed of in your household trash. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the form of pills, liquid drops, patches, creams and inhalers. Follow these steps to dispose of your medications properly. 
  • Cover any personal information on the prescription label to protect your identity. A permanent marker works best.
  • Remove all medication from their original containers and mix them with something unpleasant, such as used coffee grounds, dirt or cat litter. This technique can potentially make the medication unappealing to children, pets or someone searching the trash for drugs.
  • Next, put the mixture in a sealed container to prevent it from spilling or leaking and place into your trash.
Flushing medication down the toilet
If the take-back program is not available, some prescription medications can be flushed down the toilet. This method is used for medication that can be extremely harmful if ingested improperly by children or pets.

These medications include but aren't limited to:
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
Visit the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website for the complete list of medications that can be flushed down the toilet. According to the FDA, there has been no sign of environmental effects caused by flushing approved prescription medications.  

Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Safe Disposal of Medicines - Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know.” Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, 28 December 2018.
Office of the Commissioner. “Consumer Updates - Where and How to Dispose of Unused Medicines.” Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, 25 October 2017.  

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