How to Dispose of Unused Medicines

Happy New Year!

It might not quite be time for spring cleaning, but the New Year is a great time to declutter your home and throw out things that no longer serve you. While much of what you choose to get rid of can go into the bin or be recycled, you need to understand that medicines cannot. So, what should you do with those old prescription bottles and their unused contents?

Many of us rarely clean out our medicine cabinets – and when we do, it can be quite surprising to find that many of the medicines there are either expired or are no longer required…

Prescription Medicine – Do You Still Need It?

It’s really important to evaluate whether you need your old medications. Your medication list should be up to date and you should only take (and keep) what you really need – to do otherwise can be dangerous for your health and wellbeing. For example, old medications for back pain, arthritis, anxiety, or osteoporosis may no longer be appropriate for your condition. Also, some medications are not suitable to be used alongside certain others.

Expired Medications

All prescriptions and other drugs should be labelled with the expiration date on the box, bottle, or vial. After this date, no matter what the medicine is, from antibiotics to pain medications to antihistamines, it should be discarded. Expired or out-of-date medicines may be ineffective or unsafe. Some can even become contaminated.

How to Dispose of Old Prescription Bottles and Vials

You need to dispose of:

  • Expired medicines
  • Leftover prescriptions
  • Drugs you no longer need
  • Old medicines if you have been switched to another drug
  • Unused prescriptions


So, how should you dispose of unwanted medicines?

No matter whether your old, expired, unused or unwanted medicines are prescription or over-the-counter drugs, or whether they are in prescripton vials, prescription bottles, boxed, or otherwise, you need to discard them safely.

  1. According to the US FDA, most types of unused medications should be returned to a drug take-back location. Some pharmacies will accept old medicines for proper disposal via disposal kiosks or mail-back programs.


  • The US Drug Enforcement Agency sponsors National Prescription Drug Take Back Days in April and October, and these accept all drugs, including narcotics.


  • Many Police Stations have take-back bins for medication disposal.


  • Some medicines may be on the FDA Flush List. This is because they may be very harmful to others and may be sought after for misuse or abuse. This means that, if you can’t easily reach a drop-off location, they should be flushed down the toilet or sink rather than put in the trash. This is not the most ideal option, but in the absence of other alternatives, flushing is recommended. The drugs on the flush list include opioids and narcotics, including fentanyl, morphine, Demerol, oxycodone, diazepam, and others.


  • If you can’t reach a drop-off location and a drug is not on the flush list, it may be discarded in the trash. You should do this by:


  1. Mix the liquid or uncrushed pill or capsule with coffee grounds, cat litter, or dirt.
  2. Seal the mixture in a plastic bag or another container.
  3. Discard in your household trash.
  4. Remove/scratch out all personal information from the empty packaging and recycle, reuse, or throw it away in your trash.


It’s recommended that you remove your personal information from prescription bottles, vials, bags, and boxes before discarding them.


A Final Word

Prescription and over-the-counter medicines can be extremely beneficial – but they can also be extremely dangerous. Children and older people in particular, as well as pets, are at risk of taking or consuming medications and it can be fatal. By clearing your home of medicines that are unused, unwanted, no longer appropriate, or out-of-date, (and storing your remaining medicines properly), you can help prevent accidents and potentially save a life.