How To Safely Dispose of Old Medications and Other Household Drugs

Did you know that in 2019 up to 200 pharmaceuticals were detected in the surface water, ground water and drinking water in the U.S., according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development? Conventional wastewater treatment plants are neither designed nor equipped to fully remove pharmaceuticals, which is how these substances end up in ground and surface water.

What can you do to dispose of medications properly and help prevent these potent chemicals from polluting the environment?

While 61% of Americans are concerned about flushed painkillers polluting drinking water and public waterways, 1 out of 4 admit to flushing leftover prescriptions down the drain, and another 25% reported throwing unused medications in the trash, according to a study by Stericycle. If you are concerned about the environment, you can be part of the solution by taking advantage of new ways to safely dispose of unused medications.

Here are practical do’s and don’ts to follow when discarding old medications or other household drugs:

DO: Regularly clean out your medicine cabinet. Are there unused medications you no longer need? Expired over-the-counter medications or prescriptions? Make it a habit to regularly inventory your medications and remove expired, unwanted and unneeded ones for disposal.

DON’T: Hold on to prescriptions you are no longer advised to take by your doctor. The Stericycle study found that Americans keep unused prescriptions either for future use (30%), because they fear their illness reoccurring (32%) or because they don’t know how to dispose of them (nearly 15%). However, keeping unused medications in your home can be unsafe and increases risks for accidental ingestion or potential substance misuse.

DO: Use one of these safe disposal methods for discarding unused medications in your home:

  • Use the Deterra Drug Deactivation and Disposal System, a safe medication disposal pouch that can be used at home. It is the safest, most effective choice used to destroy and properly dispose of unused, unwanted and expired over-the-counter and prescription medications. It permanently deactivates drugs in many forms including pills, patches, liquids, films and creams — with the simple addition of tap water. Easily available on Amazon, and in their online store, Deterra’s proprietary activated carbon renders drugs inert and harmless, and its plant-based packaging and non-toxic ingredients prevent harmful chemicals from entering landfills and water supplies.
  • Find a drug take-back program in your community. These collection sites or drop boxes may be located at a nearby hospital, clinic pharmacy or law enforcement agency. Sometimes you may also find pop-up drug collection events being held throughout the year. Be sure to ask what types of medications the program will accept, as some will not take liquids.

DON’T: Flush medications down the toilet, put them down the drain or throw them in the trash. While some sources may advise flushing pills or mixing meds with coffee grounds or kitty litter to make them unappealing to potential poachers, these methods do not render active chemicals inert and allow harmful ingredients to make their way into the water and soil after being discarded.

“It’s up to all of us — hospitals, clinics, families and individuals to ensure that we’re preventing medications from polluting our environment,” said Nancy Devine, chief operating officer at Verde Environmental Technologies Inc. “The good news is, it’s not hard to do the right thing to keep hazardous substances from harming the planet.”

For more information about how to dispose of household medications and prescription drugs safely, visit

Author Profile

The Editorial Team at Lake Oconee Health is made up of skilled health and wellness writers and experts, led by Daniel Casciato who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We aim to provide our readers with valuable insights and guidance to help them lead healthier and happier lives.