The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) mandates regulations governing the drug disposal of controlled drugs by the ultimate user (patient). The regulations do not prohibit the patient or family member from disposing of medications in their home. However, they expand the options for this disposal to include and encourage the use of authorized collectors which will include pharmacies, hospitals, clinics within pharmacies, certain manufacturers, distributors, and law enforcement agencies. All of these collection options are voluntary and the disposal regulation does not require the patient to utilize any of these methods for disposal of controlled substances.The agency has also revised the regulation recently and any method of drug disposal that was valid prior to the new regulation continues to be valid. Thus thenew regulation does not prohibit the patient (or family member within the household) from using current existing lawful methods for drug disposal.
What are the options for medication disposal?
- Medicine take-back programs: Contact your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service to see if there is a medicine take-back program in your community and learn about any special rules regarding which medicines can be taken back.
- Disposal in household trash:Take a look at your prescriptions. Some medications list disposal information right on them. It is highly recommended to follow these procedures. If there are no instructions for disposal, place capsules and tablets into undesirable contents, like kitty litter or used coffee grinds. There is no need to crush medications before disposal. Place these contents in a sealed bag and then dispose of in the trash. When medications are in undesirable contents, pets and young children are less likely to get to them. Make sure to remove any labeling on the prescription that identifies the patient or the medication. When in doubt about proper disposal, talk to your pharmacist.
- Flushing of certain medicines: There are a small number of medicines (primarily the opioids) that, if cannot be returned to a medicine take-back program, should be flushed down the sink or toilet (as long as it is legal in your state – in certain states such as California, flushing medications down the toilet is illegal, regardless of the FDA’s recommendations). Be sure to know the law in your state before recommending that medications be flushed because they could be especially harmful to a child, pet, or anyone else if taken accidentally. Flushing down the sink or toilet is currently the best way to immediately and permanently remove the risk of harm from the home.
The FDA believes that any potential risk to people and the environment from flushing this small, select list of medicines is outweighed by the real possibility of life-threatening risks from accidental ingestion of these medicines. Scientists, to date, have found no evidence of harmful effects to human health from medicines in the environment.