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Medication Disposal: How to Safely Get Rid Of Unwanted Medicine

medication disposal

With many seniors taking multiple medications, it’s common for some to expire and others to be stopped when no longer needed. But how do you dispose of unwanted medication? Jess McLean shares tips for safe medication disposal and donation as well as protecting personal information and donating medical supplies.

It’s not uncommon for medication to go unused, especially when a dose changes or the medicine is only prescribed temporarily, like after a surgical procedure.

Over time, those unused medication bottles and boxes can pile up.

This creates clutter and increases the chances of confusing medications your older adult should be taking with those that are expired or no longer needed.

This guide explains how to safely dispose of or donate unused medicine, protect your older adult’s identity, and donate medical supplies.


Medication disposal do’s and don’ts

Don’t just throw it out or flush it It might seem like throwing medicine out, pouring it down the drain, or flushing it down the toilet is a fine idea, but it isn’t recommended for most drugs.

Those methods can lead to toxic contamination of the environment and negatively impact aquatic species, groundwater, and more.

In fact, animals or even people who potentially go through your trash can consume medicines that have been thrown out and get sick.

The safest way to dispose of medication The safest and most recommended way to get rid of medicine is through a drug take back program.

The National Drug Enforcement Administration office holds two national drug take back days a year – find out about dates and locations here.

Many pharmacies may also have drug drop-off bins where you can simply discard old, unused and unwanted prescriptions throughout the year.

The DEA has a national site locator tool you can use to enter your zip code and find a drop-off location near you.

If you can’t get to a disposal location If you must throw out unused medicine, first read the disposal instructions that came with the medicine itself.

If you don’t have the instructions, follow these steps to make sure that the medicines have less of a chance of being consumed by other people or animals.

For pills, capsules, and tablets:

  1. Do not crush, but place the medication a resealable plastic bag with a little dish soap and water and shake it up. Let it sit until the medicine is disintegrated.

  2. Add a substance that will help absorb the contents of the bag, like kitty litter, dirt, or coffee grounds.

  3. Re-seal it and throw in the trash.

You can do the same thing for liquid and gel medications too – simply pour into a resealable bag with a little dish soap and an absorbing substance and put in the trash. Note: There are some medicines the Federal Drug Administration recommends flushing if there are no take-back options available to you – click here for a list.

How to donate unused medication

If you’ve recently lost your older adult, you may also be looking for ways to get rid of their leftover medicine as you clean out their belongings.

Knowing how expensive some medicines are, it’s a true shame that people in need may go without because in most cases, disposal is required and donation isn’t allowed.

However, there may be ways for you to give that medicine to a healthcare provider who can actually find a way to get it to patients in need.

21 states have operational drug redistribution programs that allow people to donate unused medication to be redistributed to patients in need – find a list here.

Typically there are provisions guiding what you can and cannot donate. For example:

  1. Medicine cannot be considered a “controlled substance”

  2. Medicine cannot be expired at the time of receipt

  3. Medicine must be sealed in tamper-proof packaging and unopened

  4. Medicine cannot be adulterated or misbranded

A pharmacist verifies all donated medicines prior to their redistribution and liability protection for donors and recipients is 100% assured.

Your best bet is to talk to your older adult’s doctors about the possibility of donating unused medicine so it can be redistributed.

You may also want to check if local medical ministries or public clinics in your region are accepting donations of medicine.

In most cases, similar guidelines will be in place and you must drop the medicine off at a clinic location, not a general donation center.

To find out if there is a medical ministry near you, try searching online or contacting your local Area Agency on Aging or other senior services agencies for more information.


Protecting identity and personal information

Did you know that someone could potentially get your older adult’s name, pharmacy, prescription, and doctor’s information off of one prescription label?

Even with this little bit of information they could go about committing insurance fraud and prescription fraud, all in your older adult’s name.

To prevent this from happening, the Federal Trade Commission has recommendations for preventing identity fraud when it comes to your medical records and prescriptions.

It’s highly recommended that you remove and shred all prescription labels prior to medication disposal.

If you don’t have a portable shredder at home, you can collect all the prescription labels and take them to your local Office Depot or UPS store to get them securely shredded for a small fee.

If you’re donating unused medicine, the prescription label may have an expiration date on it. Ask the organization where you’re donating what to do with the label before you remove it from the bottle/packaging.

Donating medical supplies

If you have medical supplies that are not prescriptions like mobility equipment, incontinence supplies, cleaning supplies, or dental supplies, you can typically donate those to local aging services programs, medical equipment lending programs, or medical ministries.

These types of organizations help to fix up and clean equipment and then lend it out for free to people in the community who need it.

Even already open supplies, like a box of adult diapers or bed pads, can be donated to someone in need through these programs.

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Guest contributor: Jess McLean is a freelance writer based in Asheville, NC. She was a full-time caregiver for her Mom, Maria, who battled primary progressive MS and epilepsy for over 10 years. In her free time, you can find Jess blogging about caregiving tips, ideas, and solutions at

This article wasn’t sponsored and doesn’t contain affiliate links. For more information, see How We Make Money.


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