Medications are important for treating many conditions and diseases. It is just as important to make sure any expired or unused medications and needles are disposed of correctly to limit exposure to other people, animals and the environment. Doctors prescribe medications based on each person’s specific symptoms and medical history. Never give your medications to family members or friends to use. A medication that works for you can be dangerous for someone else. The following information contains directions and resources for safe medication and sharp disposal as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Drug take-back programs allow individuals to bring their unused or expired medications to a central location for proper disposal, and are the preferred method of disposal. The DEA works with state and local law enforcement agencies to host National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days. The purpose of this is to provide a safe and responsible system to dispose of medications, while also providing education about the potential for abuse of medications.
There are also multiple DEA-authorized collectors where you can bring in your medications to be disposed any day during their respective business hours. Some authorized collection sites may also offer mail-back programs or collection drop-boxes.
If no disposal instructions are given on the medication label and no take-back programs are available in your area, medications may be thrown in the household trash by following three simple steps.
Before throwing out the empty medication bottle/packaging, be sure to scratch out all identifying information on the medication label.
Certain medications can be discarded by flushing down the sink or toilet if they cannot be returned through a drug take-back program. Flushing is an acceptable option because accidental ingestion of these dangerous medications can be harmful to children or pets.
A complete and up-to-date list of medications that can be flushed is located on the FDA’s website.
Never flush loose needles and other sharps down the toilet or sink and do not place loose needles and other sharps in any trash can or recycling bin. Used sharps should be placed immediately in a sharps disposal container only.
FDA-cleared sharps containers are available through the Specialty Pharmacy. If you are unable to obtain an FDA-cleared container, a heavy-duty plastic container, such as a laundry detergent or bleach bottle, can be used as an alternative. Be sure to label the container appropriately. Always keep the sharps container out of the reach of children and pets.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality provides the following guidelines for when a sharps container is full: