What's in your medicine cabinet?

Do you have:

  • Over-the-counter medications you bought for a health problem you don't have any more?
  • A prescription medication that you stopped taking because your doctor replaced it with another one or you felt better?
  • Medications that have passed their expiration date?
  • Medications used by people who no longer live in your house?

It isn't a good idea to keep medications that aren't useful any more. Disposing of them will keep them out of the hands of people who shouldn't take them.

Unwanted medications have traditionally been flushed down the toilet or poured down a drain. While this removes them from your house quickly, it is not environmentally friendly: the medications travel through wastewater to treatment plants and septic systems, and from there into our groundwater, rivers, ponds and streams.

Research has detected low concentrations of medications in our waterways. Even at very low concentrations, some medications have affected fish and other aquatic life.


Follow These Easy Steps for Safe Disposal:*

  1. Keep medications in their original containers. Leave drug names visible to help identify the contents if they are accidentally swallowed. Cross out other personal information on labels to make it unreadable.
  2. Disguise the medications in their containers:
    • For pills: add some water or soda to dissolve them.
    • For liquids: add inedible material like cat litter, coffee grounds or dirt.
  3. Close the lids and secure with tape.
  4. Check to see if there is a permanent waste medication collection kiosk pdf format of Permanent Waste Medication Kiosks List
xls format of                             kiosklist.xls                in your town or city. If not, hide medication containers in the trash. DO NOT put them in your recycle bin!

*Unless the information sheet that came with your medication tells you to flush it down the drain. If you don't have the information sheet, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration web site, which lists drugs that should be flushed down the drain, and provides advice about how to dispose of other medications:

  • DO NOT put drugs in the trash without first disguising them - scavengers may find and eat them.
  • DO throw your unwanted medications away safely!

How do drugs affect our environment?

Current scientific research has shown that medication in the environment (e.g., our lakes, ponds, and streams) affects living organisms in a variety of ways. Fish caught near wastewater treatment plants have been found to contain residues of human medications, including those used to treat high cholesterol, allergies, high blood pressure, and depression. Documented impacts have included:

  • Development of female traits in male fish due to hormones like estrogen, and  
  • Reproduction problems in shellfish due to anti-depressants.

More information is available online:


Printer-friendly color handout version of this web page: Fact Sheet: Safe Disposal of Prescription & Over-the-Counter Drugs  pdf format of Safe Disposal of Prescription & Over-the-Counter Drugs