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What is the best plan for getting rid of old or leftover medications (ones that are not prescribed for me)?

Written by Wilfred W. Acholonu, Jr., Pharm.D. BCPP

Storing large quantities of medications at home can be potentially dangerous. Excessive amount of medications can lead to confusion about which medications to take, increase the risk of over-dose, and can be potentially dangerous to children and pets.   It is very important to go through the medication cabinet, and dispose all leftover, expired and unwanted medications.

Proper disposal of unwanted medications should protect your privacy, discourage consumption, and not be a source of environmental contamination.   Flushing medications down the sink or toilet is no longer recommended.  Local municipals, trash services or hazardous waste facilities may be contacted, but some may not accept medication products.

The best plan is to dispose the medications in the trash.  But first, protect your privacy by removing the label, or by crossing out your name and the name of the drug with a permanent maker, or by removing the medication from the original container.  Secondly, discourage consumption of the medications by modifying the content with undesirable refuse such as wet coffee grounds, wet cat litter, or by adding a small amount of water to partially dissolve the medications.  For liquid medications add table salt, flour, or non-toxic ill smelling spices such as mustard or turmeric and conceal the medication container with a duct or opaque tape.  Place the container in a sealed non-transparent bag, empty can, or jar and dispose the contents in the trash.

If the medication is in blister (unit dose) packs, distort the name; wrap the blister packages with multiple layers of duct or opaque tapes, place in a non-transparent bag and dispose in the trash.  If your leftover medications are ampules, vials, or intravenous (IV) bags, wrap the container with tape to prevent breakage, place in an opaque plastic container, and wrap the container with additional duct tape to prevent leakage and to further obscure the content.  Dispose the container in the trash.

Recently the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been sponsoring a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day throughout the United States. This program allows the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Check the following website for information on the DEA National Take Back Initiative (

Another option for getting rid of old medications is to ask your pharmacist if he or she can properly dispose of them.

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NAMI Wishes to thank the College of Psychiatric and Neurological Pharmacists for their participation in writing our medication fact sheets and for writing our "Ask the Psychiatric Pharmacist" questions and answers.