Prescription Drugs

What's the problem?

Medicine take-back programs for disposal are a good way to remove expired, unwanted, or unused medicines from the home to reduce the chance that others may accidentally take the medicine. Discarding unused medications down the toilet or sink is a common but poor disposal method. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove or process many compounds found in medications. When flushed or poured down drains, medications can end up in water systems —streams, rivers, lakes, and drinking water reservoirs.

How do I handle it?

There are several options for safe disposal of expired, unwanted, or unused medicines:

  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) - The DEA schedules a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day each Spring and Fall. To search for a collection site near you, visit National Take-Back Initiative
  • Police stations - There are safe, locked drop boxes at several local police stations. A list of permanent drop box locations in the Kansas City area is available here. The drop boxes do not accept needles, syringes, lancets, injection pens or contaminated materials such as gloves, tubing or IV bags.
  • Pharmacies - Walgreens has installed safe medication disposal kiosks in over 500 pharmacies in 35 states; see a map of local kiosk locations. Kiosks are available for use during regular pharmacy hours and will accept prescriptions (Schedule II – V controlled and non-controlled substances) and over-the counter medications. Walgreens does not accept illegal drugs, needles, lotions, inhalers, aerosol cans, thermometers, or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Pharmacy mail-back program - A mail-back program using postage-paid envelopes that can be purchased from your local pharmacy is now in place. Most pharmacy chains, such as Walgreens and CVS, carry the envelopes. You simply place your unwanted medicines in the postage-paid envelope, seal and drop into any U.S. Postal Service mailbox where it will be sent to an approved medication incinerator. Controlled substances are excluded from mail-back programs. Also, do not mail back needles, syringes, lancets, injection pens or contaminated materials such as gloves, tubing or IV bags. As always, contact your local pharmacy to check for availability of the mail-back kit for unused medication disposal.
  • If none of the above are options, follow these steps to dispose of the drugs in the household trash:
    1. Take drugs out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
    2. Put this mix in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.

image of insulin syringe.Medical sharps

Medical sharps, such as needles, syringes, lancets and injection pens, are not recyclable. To protect sanitation workers or anyone who handles your trash, they should be put into a tightly closed, puncture-resistant container such as a detergent bottle. There are also several commercial mail-back programs for sharps: