Employee & Community Health

Unused medications? Dispose of them properly



Do you have an unused prescription or over-the-counter medication lingering in your medicine cabinet? For the safety of you and your family - and the environment - they need to be disposed of properly. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends these methods:

  • Follow any disposal instructions on the medication container label or information that came with the medication. Do not flush prescription medication down the toilet unless that's what's recommended. 
  • Bring unused medications to a community "take-back" program. Call your city or county government's household trash and recycling service to ask if one is available locally. Store medications for an upcoming collection securely to keep them from being misused. 
    • There is a drug-disposal lockbox - which is available 24/7, 365 days a year - just inside the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center, 101 4th Street SE in Rochester. 
    • Olmsted County and Mayo Clinic periodically host take-back events where patients can drop off unused medications. Watch for announcements about them here, as well as your local media. 
  • If no instructions are given on the medication container label and no take-back program is available in your area, throw medications in the household trash, but first:
    • Take medication out of its original container and mix it with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. This makes the medication less appealing to children and pets and unrecognizable to people who may go through your trash. 
    • Put the medication mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent it from leaking or spilling out of a garbage bag. 
    • Remove or ink out all identifying information from a medication container label before throwing it away. This can help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information. 
  • Disposal requirements vary from state to state. Contact your state or local waste management authorities for proper disposal requirements. 
  • When in doubt about disposing of an unused medication, talk with your pharmacist. Some pharmacies take back and dispose of medications as a community service, however Mayo Clinic pharmacies no longer are accepting unused medications from patients. Pharmacies do not buy back medications.
  • Controlled substances, such as narcotic pain medications only can be accepted under special collection arrangements due to federal Drug Enforcement Agency regulations. Your pharmacist can help identify controlled substances. 
  • Chemotherapy medications may require special handling. Work with your health care provider to dispose of it properly. 
  • Dispose of used syringes and needs in a sharps container purchased from a pharmacy. Or, use an empty, hard plastic container (such as a laundry detergent bottle).