Get rid of your old drugs this Saturday


Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Is your medicine cabinet, refrigerator, or pill drawer overflowing with unused or expired medications? Don’t know how to get rid of them? Here’s an easy way: tomorrow (Saturday, April 30) between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, hand over your old prescription and over-the-counter drugs at one of 5,300 sites across the country. (Click here to find a site near you.)

The program is part of the second National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). During last year’s take-back, the participating police stations, hospitals, and other sites collected more than 242,000 pounds of drugs.

If you miss the take-back program, and need to clean out your medicine cabinet, here’s what the FDA recommends for most drugs:

  • Take the medication out of its original container, mix it with used coffee grounds, kitty litter, or dirt, and put this unappetizing blend in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid or in a sealable plastic bag. Put the container or bag into your regular garbage.
  • Scratch off the prescription label and any identifying information from the original container to protect your identity and the privacy of your health record, and recycle or dispose of the container.

This advice doesn’t apply to strong painkillers and sedatives. If you can’t find a take-back program, the FDA says to flush these drugs down the toilet. Although that isn’t the ideal solution—medications flushed down the toilet can eventually make their way into rivers, lakes, and drinking water supplies—it will limit the number of tragedies that happen when children, pets, and other living creatures get into unused medications. The FDA’s Web site provides a list of the 25 “flush-only” drugs as well as more information on disposing unwanted medications.

Leftover drugs pose a problems for people and the environment. (An article in the June 2011 Harvard Health Letter will look at the growing problem of drugs in our water supplies.) Take advantage of the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day by giving yours to the DEA—an organization that has had lots of practice safely disposing drugs.


  1. Anonymous

    very good advice

  2. Pierre Davis

    This is a great idea,thanks for the tips and advise, I will clean my medicine cabinet and get rid of those old medicines.

  3. Coffee With KC

    Great way to use your coffee grounds, kitty litter and get rid of old pills at the same. Thanks for the idea, will do!

  4. Javier

    Me gusto mucho la pagina, como un aporte quisiera compartir algunos consejos para caida del cabello:

    1- No exponer tu cabello en exceso al sol, la playa, el agua salada de mar o de río, factores que obstaculizan el crecimiento del cabello.
    2- Evade el uso de gels, mousse y otros productos químicos comerciales de belleza para el cabello, ya que favorecen la caída del cabello. Prefiere productos naturales para el cuidado de tu pelo.
    3- No cepilles tus cabellos porque podrías extender su caída. Usa peines con separaciones anchas y mantén el cuero cabelludo limpio, impidiendo que los folículos se tapen, lo que provocaría la caída del cabello.
    4- No abusar del uso de gorras o pañuelos, que impiden la oxigenación de tu pelo.

  5. De gekko nl

    Yeah good advice, i will clean out the box to

  6. Hmm,i never stood still that medicine can such a problem for our waterways,…thanks for this advise


    It’s National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery this month (every Sept). Substance abuse addictions are spiraling out of control these days especially now with prescription drug dependencies. It’s unfortunate that many rehab centers focus only on getting a person off their substance. There are facilities out there, though, that taper an individual off their addiction first while teaching them new and healthy habits such as weight training, martial arts, healthy eating habits, and learning new skills.

  8. smith

    Yes, please don’t flush drugs into the waterways…our water has enough problems with all the pesticides, herbicides, and of course oil spills and floating debris fields…

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  9. J Thomson

    I have always heard of flushing down the toilet, although it does make sense there would be a concern regarding water health. I think this is an excellent idea for safety, although I personally try to minimize medications, I know many require them to survive.
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  10. Peter - Substance Abuse Specialist

    The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day seems like an excellent initiative, should be more widespread and more regular in my opinion.
    Thanks for the info (particularly the coffee grounds tip).

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  11. Kay Cahill Allison

    I like the coffe grounds idea. I would never have thought of that!

  12. man hair loss

    interesting, thanks for this advise, it’ll be a big help for me since i do have a handful of old medicines at home… time to clean the medicine cabinet…

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