Prescription Drugs

What's the problem?

photo of medicine cabinetPrescription drug take-back and disposal programs are a good way to safely remove expired, unwanted or unused medicines from the home to reduce the chance of accidental ingestion. Discarding unused medications down the toilet or sink is a common, but ill-advised disposal method. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove or process many compounds found in medications. When flushed or poured down drains, medications end up in water systems — streams, rivers, lakes and drinking water reservoirs.

What should you do?

  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) - The DEA has scheduled a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on April. 26, 2014, from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. To search for a collection site near you, visit the National Take-Back Initiative website, or call 800-882-9539.
  • Pharmacy mail-back program — Purchase postage-paid mail-back envelopes from a local pharmacy. Controlled substances  are excluded from this program. To find a pharmacy that sells mail-back envelopes for unused medication disposal, visit Sharps Compliance, Inc. Be sure to call the pharmacy first to confirm availability.

  • Police stations — Many local police stations offer safe, locked drop boxes for unwanted medicine. To find a location near you, visit Missouri’s Youth Adult Alliance Statewide Permanent Drop Box Program web page.
  • Johnson County Sheriff’s Office — In partnership with the Regional Prevention Center, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office now offers a permanent Prescription Drug Take-Back Drop Box at the courthouse in Olathe, Kan.

More Information

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends following specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information sheet that accompanies prescription medication:

  • Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.*  Certain drugs, like the narcotics oxycodone and fentanyl should be flushed. This is because these drugs are highly addictive. It is safer to keep these medicines out of the trash to reduce the danger of unintentional use or overdose and illegal abuse.

  • Do not give medications to friends. Doctors prescribe drugs based on a person’s specific symptoms and medical history. A drug that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.

  • If no instructions are given on the drug label and a take-back program is not an option, throw the drugs in the household trash, but first:
    • Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
    • Put them in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.

Before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.

* Search for medications that should be flushed.