Safe Disposal: Learn the Facts

Do Not Flush! Do Not Pour!

If you are like most people, you have prescription drugs and other medicines you or your family no longer need in your medicine cabinet or other locations in your home. In the past, it was recommended to flush these medications down the toilet or sink. We now know that drugs that are disposed by flushing can enter the environment because sewage treatment plants and septic systems are not designed to remove them1. Also, scientific research suggests that certain drugs may cause harm to fish and other aquatic life2.Luckily, scientists have no evidence that medications in the environment harm human health.3

Please take the time to safely dispose of your medications: Prevent Abuse, Poisoning and Pollution.

Prescription, or over the counter medications, should NOT be flushed down the toilet or poured down a sink. Protecting the environment is one good reason to properly dispose of your medications. However, there are other very important reasons to consider:

  • Drug abuse is very common.More than half of people who abuse painkillers get the drugs for free from friends or relatives4. Also, drugs can be taken out of your trash and used or illegally sold.
  • You can prevent accidental poisonings. Children and pets can find medicine in your home or in your trash. According to the Utah Poison Control Center, medications are the #1 poisoning calls for all ages of callers and they are the #2 poisoning for children less than 6 years of age. The majority of these poison exposures are unintentional and preventable.
  • Prevent unintentional deaths. In 2007, unintentional prescription pain medication overdoses were the number one cause of injury deaths in Utah, even more than motor vehicle crashes5.

Proper Disposal Guidelines for Utah Households*: Please take your medications to a permanent collection site or a special community take-back event

Currently, there are limited legal options for safe medication disposal because of complex laws. Some medications are hazardous and some are controlled substances. Disposal programs must comply with state and federal solid and hazardous waste regulations as well as the Controlled Substance Act.

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) developed the Proper Medication Disposal Program to provide Utah households a safe and legal alternative to flushing medications. The program provided grants to law enforcement agencies to install permanent medication collection bins in the lobby of their buildings to collect unused over-the-counter and prescription medications from Utah households. The program also funded community medication take-back events called “Clean Out Your Medicine Cabinet.”As required by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), both options require law enforcement personnel be present to collect, store and ultimately incinerate the medications.

*This program cannot accept medications from doctor or veterinarian offices or clinics, long term care facilities, hospitals, or other medical facilities. These facilities should contact a DEA licensed reverse distributor for disposal.

Permanent Disposal Bins

Take your unused medications to one of the permanent collection sites located in the lobby of law enforcement agencies. Currently there are 58 permanent bins in 15 counties. Each location contains a locked, mounted steel collection bin in the lobby. Prescriptions are dropped off anonymously--identification is not required. Bins are emptied by a Law Enforcement Officers and ultimately incinerated at DEQ permitted facilities. This community service is provided by the police or sheriff department free of charge and confidentiality of all participants is ensured. Click here to find a site.

Safe Disposal at Home

Taking your unused medications to a permanent collection site or community event is the preferred method of safe disposal to protect the environment.However, if you cannot find a convenient location you can dispose of your medications in your household trash by followingthese guidelines outlined by the SMARXT DISPOSAL campaign created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America to educate consumers about how to dispose of medicines in a safe manner.

  • Take your prescription drugs out of their original containers. By removing unwanted, unused, or expired medicine from its original container, you are ensuring that medicine will not fall in the wrong hands. Orange prescription bottles are easily recognizable and can be stolen from garbage cans and landfills.
  • Crush and mix all unused drugs with an undesirable substance such as used (wet) coffee grounds, moist unused cat litter, spoiled food, flour mixed with a large amount of salt and water to make a paste, or another undesirable substance and put it in a plastic bag and seal it. Wrap it in duck tape or place into another container. If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.), add water to dissolve it. Make sure it is thoroughly mixed.
  • Throw container in trash can on the same day the trash is collected. This extra step can prevent accidental overdose by children and pets and also possible drug theft.
  • Conceal, remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information (prescription label) from all medication containers before recycling them or throwing them away (using black permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off).