How to Throw Out Expired, Unused or Unwanted Medications

Medications help you feel better, but you should only take them when prescribed by your doctor. Doctors know how to determine what medications are safe for you. Taking expired medications can be harmful. Your unused or unwanted medications can be dangerous if someone else, like a family member, takes them. Properly throwing out medications once you are finished with them or they are expired is important. It can save your life and the lives of others.

If you have expired, unused or unwanted medications, you can safely get rid of them by:

  • Taking them to a drug take-back event. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors these events nationwide every spring and fall. Find one near you.
  • Calling your local waste management department. They can tell you what options you have and what guidelines are in place.
  • Asking your pharmacist if they take these medications. Some may have mail back programs or a disposal area.  Find a disposal area.

If none of those options are available where you live, you can also safely throw out medications at home. Follow these steps*:

  1. Remove medications from their containers
  2. Mix medications with something undesirable such as used coffee grounds, cat litter or dirt.  Do not crush tablets or capsules
  3. Place the mixture in a sealable container or plastic bag
  4. Scratch out or cover all information on the prescription bottle with permanent marker or duct tape
  5. Throw the sealed mixture and empty prescription bottles in the trash.

Always check the medication bottle for proper disposal instructions.


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