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How do I Dispose of Expired Medicine?

By Deborah Ng
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are several safe ways to get rid of expired medicine. Most experts recommend contacting a pharmacy about taking the drugs there, because pharmacies usually have programs for recycling or disposing of medications. Other options include securely enclosing them in plastic and throwing them in the trash, taking them to a hazardous waste facility or donating them to organizations that accept expired medicine.

Environmental Hazard

It once was recommended to flush old medicines down the toilet or dump them down the sink drain. This was considered safe within the home because the medications could no longer be taken accidentally or be ingested by children or pets. Drugs that have been flushed or washed down the drain, however, could get into the soil or water supply, creating an environmental hazard. This is no longer considered a good way to dispose of expired medicines.

Contact a Pharmacy

If you have expired medicine that you want to get rid of, the best thing to do is contact your local pharmacy first. Some pharmacies will take back expired medicine at any time, and others will hold periodic drives to collect it. Either way, the pharmacy might be able to take back your expired medication and dispose of it properly. If your pharmacy doesn't take back your old drugs, you can ask the pharmacist what to do with them. Another pharmacy in your area also might accept expired medicines.

Enclose in Plastic

Another option is to take any old pills and pulverize them, then return them to their child-safe container and place the container inside several ziplock plastic bags or another thick plastic container. They can then be thrown away with other trash. The plastic will not degrade quickly, which could prevent the medicine from contaminating the soil — at least for many years. With this method, however, leakage and contamination still is possible.

Hazardous Waste

Expired medicines are considered to be hazardous waste, so they should be disposed as such. You can contact your local hazardous waste facility to whether it accepts expired drugs. If not, the facility likely will have a recommendation for what to do with them.

Charitable Organizations

There also are organizations that accept medicine that has passed its expiration date and will donate the medicine to organizations in third-world countries. Some medicine might still be good long past its printed expiration date, although only qualified healthcare professionals should decide which expired medicines are still safe to take. An Internet search will provide you with the names of these organizations.

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Discussion Comments
By anon943312 — On Apr 01, 2014

In the UK, take them back to the pharmacy so they can re-label and sell them again to the NHS! This earns the pharmacy massive profits and defrauds the health service of millions.

I always crush any unwanted tablets and return them bagged to the pharmacy.

I will add, when I once worked for a pharmacy delivering bottles of oxygen, I would collect three or four (sometimes more) large bottles still sealed from people who had passed away or gone into care. These bottles were simply sold again through the health service, which had to pay the pharmacy a second time for the same bottle. I started to take the seals off the bottles so they would be returned for replacement.

By anon938771 — On Mar 10, 2014

I work for a surgery center and we have meds expire all the time. It is such a waste but Medicare says we have to dispose of them. I would love to find someone who could use them. The medications are still potent; they just are past the pull date. I wish there was a way to avoid this waste. I order supplies sparingly but still have waste.

Donating seems a win-win situation, and yes, I personally would use these meds if I needed them without hesitation. I just don't need them.

By anon306587 — On Nov 30, 2012

Good article, but we have also not had success in local pharmacies taking back old or expired medicine. Even if they do take it back, they probably just send it to an incinerator, which is awful for the environment.

By anon249703 — On Feb 21, 2012

Taking someone else's meds and donating them or giving them away is: 1) potentially illegal if it's a controlled substance, and 2) potentially dangerous because someone may have mixed the pills up in the bottles (especially elderly or impaired patients).

Law enforcement told my mother they could have arrested her for possessing illegal drugs (painkillers), even though she contacted them to inquire how to dispose of a friend's meds. They did actually come to her home to accept the drugs.

By anon230479 — On Nov 19, 2011

In the UK you can take your unused medicine to any chemist and you do not have to pay a penny for it!

By anon170229 — On Apr 25, 2011

"Another option is to take any old pills and pulverize them..." If this posting was by an actual pharmacist, I am appalled. No explanation required just read what she/he wrote. Ignorance is bliss!

By anon164608 — On Apr 01, 2011

I understand the concern and confusion that everybody is experiencing regarding proper disposal of medications (narcotic and non-narcotic, radioactive and otherwise). I am a fortunate woman to be located near one of the places where I can drop such things off to that will each be taken to specific places and disposed of properly. Therefore, each year I walk or drive around to collect others' outdated or unwanted medicines and handle them personally.

I do not condone the flushing or throwing away of medications because they certainly do contaminate our soil and water supply, therefore penetrating our foods, drinks, and therefore our bodies as well as children's bodies. That is unacceptable! I enjoy giving other people the comfort of knowing that none of their unwanted medications will ever get even slightly close to the hands and mouths of children or especially addicted users in search of a "buzz". I do not use drugs and am savagely against the use of anything taken to get messed up on. I also do not condone the ingestion of prescription medications not prescribed to that person. Common sense to me- ludicrous to addicts and other less informed souls.

I know that you are kindhearted, concerned people just by you taking the time to ask how to dispose of these chemicals instead of just flushing and tossing them out. You're thinking of others and the poor little sweet animals that could also swoop in and eat them if they were to be left in the landfill. That's heart warming of you kind souls. Thank you on behalf of people, children, animals, and mothers such as myself everywhere.

But everything becomes harmful if available to the wrong hands. Thank you very much for your time and concerns. may you have no more! Have a blessed and wonderful day, my darlings. And yes, if you're curious, antibiotics and such items (antivirals, epinephrine, corticosteroids, bronchodilators, antifungals, steroids, etc do get properly donated to third world companies and to victims of devastating natural disasters, homeless, and to organizations that help individual families of children with cancers and medical bills that are so large that they can't afford a place to live or food to eat, let alone medications. I don't just dispose, I help.

On behalf of myself and others that are grateful and touched by your actions and concerns, we thank you. Bless each and every one of you. Take care. -Shelby.

By anon152869 — On Feb 15, 2011

The pharmacy I work at in Utah (USA) doesn't take drugs back (laws vary state to state in the USA). There are many reasons I've heard from different pharmacists, but the best answer I heard goes like this: There is a concern that pharmacists looking to turn a profit would take back old drugs and resell them. Obviously, they wouldn't sell back harmful expired drugs like tetracycline (taking expired tetracycline will get you on the kidney transplant list), but rather the 85 percent that are good well past their expiration date as alluded to by #41.

We do realize this is an issue as a profession and have kicked around several ideas but it really comes back to cost; there is no cheap way to safely dispose of these on a large scale.

Some people proposed safes near pharmacies that the staff would not have access to and have a monthly "garbage pickup" to go burn them would be effective. Our concern was people trying to break into the safes and an added duty to an already strained work flow set up. We send most people to the police department to dispose of the drugs.

By anon151821 — On Feb 11, 2011

As a physician, I have wondered about this for years. On researching the subject I found that in the 1980s the military was spending so much money on outdated drug replacement that they asked the FDA to look into it. The FDA concluded that expiration dates have essentially no bearing on whether or not a drug is usable for a longer period, and that the stated expiration date does not mean or even imply that a given drug will stop being effective or become harmful after that date.

It turned out that over 85 percent of the drugs they tested for the military were good for many years - some up to 15 years- past the expiration date. The Dept. of Defense (DoD) picked up on this and established the Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) which is run by the FDA and certifies more accurate expiration dates for drugs which the military use.

Access to the SLEP data is restricted to the military, unfortunately. For a good summary of this, see the following WSJ article: Cohen LP. Many medicines prove potent for years past their expiration dates. Wall Street Journal. March 28, 2000.

By anon151768 — On Feb 11, 2011

I just took some to Wal-Mart, some that are narcotics, and they said they would not take them and to just flush them or mix with kitty litter. When I questioned about polluting they water, they just laughed and said that is how it is done. Flushing OxyContin is stupid in my mind so will look for a new pharmacy.

By anon151073 — On Feb 09, 2011

I went to two Walgreen's drug stores here in Chicago and one said I have to buy an addressed bag for $2.99 and place my medicines in there to mail. I could not get the address to send without buying the envelope.

Another Walgreen's pharmaceutical staff said that they were not allowed to take medicines from people. So disturbing that the drug companies will not remedy this situation. Wyk

By anon149526 — On Feb 04, 2011

I live in a third world country and any drugs that are free and still work are thankfully and gratefully received. Because most of the people here earn pittance a month and cannot afford to buy drugs. Anteretroviral drugs are much needed and give children a chance of life.

Anyone in the third world who is angry that we are given out of date drugs must be rich enough to not want enough. Also we in the third world know how to reuse everything! We are not a throw away society because survival depends on it! So from all (the majority of us anyway) of us in the third world countries, thank you.

By anon147766 — On Jan 30, 2011

Rather than spend money to ship your expired and potentially hazardous medications to developing countries why don't you just donate the money you would have spent on shipping? Donations can usually be made online and won't even cost you a postage stamp. It would likely do much more good than the old meds!

By anon145412 — On Jan 23, 2011

I just spoke with my Rite Aid Pharmacy and they said to bring them in and they send them back to the manufacturer where they will get burned.

It makes me feel better knowing they will be disposed of properly and it isn't out of my way to drop them off there. I personally think our city's refuse department should have a place for disposal, but that is neither here nor there.

I'm just glad I found somewhere to dispose of them properly. Like someone else said, keep calling around until you find a pharmacy that does dispose of them.

By lorrainew — On Jan 11, 2011

Thanks for that information. I rang one pharmacy who told me to try another and Bingo! They will dispose of it for me. It really would have irked me to throw it in the bin or down the sewer.

By anon139084 — On Jan 03, 2011

In agreement with previous commenters, donating expired medicines to countries in need of medicines is not only illegal and unethical, it creates a tremendous economic burden for the country receiving the medicines, who then must bear the burden of properly disposing of the medicines or must deal with the environmental and health fallout from their improper disposal.

Numerous NGOs exist throughout the world simply to help developing countries deal with the burden of donations of expired medicines. Although the impulse is a good one, never donate your expired medicines to be reused.

By anon134986 — On Dec 16, 2010

I work for a local food bank. We often distribute cold medicine that has expired to those who need it. It is explained to them, and they can take it or leave it. I myself grew up on expired medicine as well as food. It was better than the alternative. I currently have taken medication (non prescription) that I was issued through the VA five years ago. It has been past date for three years, but it works for me still and because I cannot breath without it, and cannot afford it, again, it beats the alternative.

I believe in most cases, dates are to keep the production lines going. Profit, profit, profit. The government don't care about the people, educate yourselves. Why do they drop chemicals over the population for testing. They care about control and money. Nothing else. --Larry C

By anon133837 — On Dec 12, 2010

I am offended by the comment about sending expired medications to third world countries. Ask yourself why they are good for third world countries, but not for 1st world countries - are human systems different? This has been a major cause of deaths in those areas as well. Misleading!

By anon132557 — On Dec 07, 2010

I once read that you can dispose of medicines by crushing them and putting them in with used coffee grounds. Any advice on this?

By anon127780 — On Nov 17, 2010

I called my CVS pharmacy to ask if they have a disposal program. They said no, and on my question what to do with my expired drugs she said, "Flush it down the toilet." If pharmacists still give this advice, where do we start in educating the general public, I wonder?

I told her to go online and read up and please never to say again, "Flush it down the toilet." And to preferably discuss with all pharmacies to set up a disposal program. hamb

By anon124669 — On Nov 06, 2010

I completely agree with anon90075.

If it's still good for a few years past expiration, you just waste energy (resources) shipping it to another part of the world. If you can still use it, use it. For people who have already become well and don't need the pills anymore, U.S. pharmacies should just recycle, as in redistribute, those. No need to take them to a "third world country" because they've been bottled once already.

By anon116913 — On Oct 08, 2010

Call again. My local pharmacy will take returned drugs. Question: if we ship outdated drugs out of the country isn't there a potential for them to get repackaged and return to this country for sale or for sale on the internet?

By anon112413 — On Sep 20, 2010

I can't believe in today's society and degree of technology that most "in date" medicines can't be somehow recycled in order to combat skyrocketing health care costs for those in our country less fortunate. The FDA and our fed government continue to suppress any thoughts of tapping into their prescription monopoly by writing these impassable regulations into law.

I'd be interested in teaming with someone to challenge the FDA on this regulation. The world needs to take the next step and see that recycling these drugs is possible and a good thing for us and the environment!

By anon104017 — On Aug 14, 2010

Please do not flush them down the toilet. The treated waste water is discharged back into rivers and lakes, and downstream cities take the diluted treated water from the river and lake for treating and drinking. Traces of medicines have been found in discharges and raw water. Please please do not flush them down the toilet.

By anon102373 — On Aug 07, 2010

Being insulted because someone donated expired medication to an organization that supplies them to people how need them is, well, stupid. Many things are donated to those who need them: cars, clothes, electronics, etc. There is nothing different or degrading about using medications that would otherwise go to waste.

For the sick person, which is worse, "old" medication or none? Get real. As for affordable medicine, the U.S. has the highest prices in the world and about 100,000 a year die for lack of medication. It's not just Third world countries these needed medications go to! Is it better to waste or reuse? Is it better to use or let it go into the environment?

This is a good program and anyone insulted is pretty much a fool.

By anon92566 — On Jun 29, 2010

Here in Anchorage, AK we are working with local DEA and law enforcement to hold safe disposal events. The issue for pharmacy counters is that DEA laws regulate who can be in possession of controlled substances (in pain killers etc.) and no one can legally possess them after they are distributed to the person to whom they were prescribed.

However, law enforcement can be in possession of them, so we are working with them to host events where folks can come drop off unused or expired medications. Then we take the collected meds to an EPA approved closed incinerator. Dumping them in the water just exposes us all to the chemicals, which many EPA studies are showing to be harmful to marine life and humans as well.

If you are in Alaska feel free to inquire about our next collection event. Thanks!

By anon90075 — On Jun 14, 2010

If expired drugs are still effective enough to be used by people in other countries, why doesn't this article suggest that instead of discarding or donating the drugs, we continue to use them until they are gone? Wouldn't this be the best solution for all concerned?

By anon87302 — On May 29, 2010

We need suggestions which actually respect every individual. 'Sending expired medications to third world countries' shows how much respect you have for other individuals, irrespective of their financial standing.

By anon77120 — On Apr 13, 2010

I live in a developing country, and I'm rather annoyed and insulted at the suggestion of sending medicines to us simply because they're past their expiry date. If you wouldn't consider keeping and using the medicines out of fear that they're "dangerous" then why are you dumping it here? That's as awful as saying that you should send spoiled food to orphanages.

We don't need expired medicines. We need pharmaceuticals to offer products at a reasonable price. And we certainly don't need this perception that we'll take whatever you don't want. That is arrogance at its highest form and I am shocked that the editors of this website would even consider printing that.

And -- just so you know -- a lot of companies do try to dump their expired products here, and sell them at a supposed discounted rate. And it's illegal.

By anon74792 — On Apr 04, 2010

Isn't that what craigslist is for? Remember, one person's trash is another person's treasure.

By anon74743 — On Apr 03, 2010

Please do not flush your medication down the toilet or throw it in the trash. Any comments you may read about medications being good past their expiration date can be very misleading. In fact, there are a few medications on the market that become toxic after their expiration date.

Find a pharmacy that will take your medications and dispose of them properly. Big chains like Walgreens are a great place to start.

By anon73906 — On Mar 29, 2010

anon60966 - apparently you aren't aware that sewer water is recycled into drinking water.

By anon65079 — On Feb 10, 2010

I went to our local pharmacy (CVS) today and inquired about the disposal of expired medication. To my disappointment, they did not accept my used medication. Instead, I was handed a pamphlet (endorsed by the California Pharmacists Association and the City of Los Angeles) that suggests to dispose of them in the regular trash. What a shame!

In my home country (Switzerland) there is a great law in place: Every store that sells medication is required to take back and properly dispose of expired/unused medication. (By the way, there is another similar law for used batteries, too!)

Why can't the US government come up with a comparable regulation in the US? The health risks are pretty much the same in every country.

By anon60966 — On Jan 17, 2010

I flush all drugs down the toilet. Sewer rats get sick too you know.

By anon54076 — On Nov 26, 2009

Mary from NJ: Send expired birth control to the third world? You must be joking or so attached to a contraceptive ideology that you don't care about the ramifications. Oral contraceptives are formulated with specified ratios of estrogen and progesterone, which degrade at different rates.

So an expired OCP will have unpredictable ratios, resulting not only in unreliable birth control, but in a bigger tragedy of hormonally mediated diseases, e.g. breast cancer. So please think before you speak.

The West has already created much havoc in the developing world. Playing with the health of women in these nations should not be an idea we should entertain.

By anon54061 — On Nov 26, 2009

Don't. Actually most drugs are good for ~5 years past their expiration date if stored properly. It's not like they suddenly implode or turn to poison. After that toss in the garbage.

By anon51528 — On Nov 06, 2009

Birth control?, yeah, this should definitely be sent out to third world countries. i think we could use it here too. (and off the topic, birth control should be free) No, instead we all pop out babies and cannot afford them! Do some research and find an organization who will donate them! Other than birth control, people die every day because they cannot afford their medications. Please donate. "One man's trash could save another's life!"

Mary from NJ

By anon50284 — On Oct 27, 2009

What are three proper ways to dispose of expired medicine? If you know, write back!

By anon41929 — On Aug 18, 2009

Do not take them to your doctor's office. This is not the purpose of a doctor's office.

By fatboy2003 — On Jun 18, 2009

my dad died recently-he had enough prescription drugs to start a pharmacy-I would hate to see them go to waste-does anyone know of an organization that could use them?

By anon30147 — On Apr 14, 2009

My local pharmacy incinerates unused/expired meds. Definitely try calling them.

By spasiba — On Feb 18, 2009

In my community we are encouraged to take all expired and unused medication to the center for household waste disposal that the city sets up periodically.

Flushing medication down the toilet or putting it into the trash is highly discouraged. The reason for that is that the medication eventually ends up in water supply. The water treatment centers can not filter out all of the medication.

By anon25269 — On Jan 26, 2009

If your pharmacy will not dispose of the expired drugs try taking them to your physician's office or local hospital. Medical facilities should have a method for disposing of hazardous medical waste (sharps, blood contaminated waste, etc.) and unless you are disposing of large amounts they probably won’t have a problem adding the expired drugs to the bin since they are shipping it away it anyway.

By anon13568 — On May 30, 2008

I still do not see a logical solution to this huge problem. When will the pharmaceutical companies be made to come up with a solution? They don't mind selling the stuff to us. They should dispose of unwanted product appropriately.

By anon9545 — On Mar 08, 2008

Exporting expired medicines to developing nations is not only unethical, it is illegal. If you wouldn't take the medicine yourself, it should not be given to someone else. It also creates a burden for countries with limited resources that have national formularies and laws against expired meds. Please consider donating to a reputable development agency working with other governments to strengthen their own resources instead. You can find more information about the ethics of donating expired medicine from the AMA Journal of Ethics, December 2006.

By jeanineers — On Jan 31, 2008

Group Health Cooperative in Washington State has a medication disposal program. Members can return the medications for disposal at any GHC clinic pharmacy location.

By sdickinson — On Jan 24, 2008

I live in Ketchikan Alaska. I contacted our hospital about how to dispose of some birth control pills which were left behind by a German exchange student who lived with us for a year. They said to flush them down the toilet. However, our sewage treatment is only primary treatment and the effluent is then dumped into the ocean. I am not satisfied with this method. There must be something else I can do. One person suggested burning them. Would this be an appropriate method? Would the residue still contain the hormones?

By malena — On Jan 16, 2008

Labels to some prescription drugs have instructions to dispose of them by flushing them down the toilet. Also, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has a list of drugs that they recommend be flushed rather than thrown in the trash. OxyContin and Percocet are among the drugs on the FDA's list. Since both of those are potentially highly addictive drugs, perhaps in these cases, the FDA is saying preventing addiction outweighs environmental concerns associated with flushing drugs down the toilet.

By anon5424 — On Nov 25, 2007

I still have the question I started with. I called our local mega pharmacy chain about returning drugs and they laughed at me.

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