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Throw Away Meds

Do not flush medications down the toilet or bring them to the pharmacy.

Disposal Option #1:

Follow disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush the medication down the toilet unless the information instructs you to do so, or if you are disposing of controlled medications. See “What about controlled (addictive) medications?” below.

Disposal Option #2:

If no instructions are given,
Mix the medication with undesirable substances, such as coffee grounds or kitty litter
Put them in a sealable bag, empty can, or other closed container
Throw the sealed bag, can, or container with the medications into the household trash

Disposal Option #3:

Community drug take back programs

Alameda County Household Hazardous Waste Facility:

  • Hayward Facility: 2091 West Winton Avenue, Hayward, CA 94545, open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 9AM-1PM every other week
  • Fremont Facility: 41149 Boyce Road, Fremont, CA 94538, open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 8:30AM-2:30PM and Saturday from 8AM-4:30PM
    Visit www.nodrugsdownthedrain.org  for other drug collection locations nearby.

More About Disposing of Medicines

It happens to everyone for a variety of reasons. You end up with a medicine cabinet full of expired or unused medications, now considered a toxic form of household hazardous waste.

Proper drug disposal is an emerging environmental issue. As with any household waste, the disposal method chosen can have a direct effect on safety and the health of the environment. Most strive to be responsible. What are your options? Learn how to safely dispose of your unwanted medications.

Should You Flush Them Down The Toilet?

I know we all have done it. Experts say however, this method may have potential harmful effects on the environment. Disposal via the toilet takes your drugs into the local sewage system. Modern water treatment plants are not designed to deal with medication disposal. The long-term health risks posed by consumption of even minute quantities of these medications in drinking water and the full extent of environmental damage remains unknown. See “What about controlled (addictive) medications?” below for an important exception to this.

Should You Pour Them Down The Sink?

This is no better than flushing them down the toilet. They still end up in the same place. It’s even worse if your home uses a septic system. Experts say drugs can leach into the local water table, eventually coming out somewhere, like a nearby lake or stream, or even worse out onto your own property, where pets, livestock or wildlife could be at risk.

Should You Throw Them Into The Trash?

Safety experts strongly discourage throwing them into the trash where children or pets can find them. Your trash will eventually make it to a local landfill, where your medications could still have the potential to leach out. Many municipal or local trash services now have local household waste facilities where you can safely drop off your medications for incineration. Call your local trash service for options in your area.

Should You Return Them To Your Pharmacy?

This is a good option if your pharmacy will do it, however, pharmacies are not required to take back your unused medications. Some pharmacies and drugstore chains do sponsor regular “clean out your medicine cabinet” drives where customers can return old, expired or unused medications, supplements and other over-the-counter products. Call your local drugstore or pharmacy for options in your area.

Our Kaiser Permanente Pharmacies are well aware of the problem of safely disposing of your medications, and are working with us to make the process easier for you. At the present time, they are not equipped to handle returned medications, and we ask that you do not bring your medicines to the pharmacy window. It is best to bring them to your local Hazardous Waste Facility instead.

Should You Return Them To Your Doctor?

This may sound like a good idea, but your doctor would then have to take your medicine to the local Hazardous Waste Facility, when you could have taken them there yourself and saved a step.

Just like pharmacies, not all physicians or doctor’s offices can accept unused medication, and may not be fully prepared to safely handle the process. Call ahead to see if your doctor can offer or suggest safer medication disposal methods.

Your physician here in the Department of Psychiatry can no longer accept your medications for disposal at your office visit. A short-lived pilot program in 2008 to have medications collected in a biohazard box in our nurses’ office for safe disposal did not work and had to be ended.

What about controlled (addictive) medications?

The FDA advises that all controlled medications including certain painkillers (e.g., OxyContin, Morphine, Percocet) be flushed down the toilet instead of thrown in the trash. California law makes it illegal to dispose of controlled medications in the trash.

There are times when a doctor’s office may require a patient to return the unused portion of a controlled medication like addictive pain medications or stimulants before the doctor will provide a new prescription of an alternate similar medication, which might be done to assure the medication would not end up sold to others, or be taken in combination with the new medication leading to overdose.


Consider all your options for safer, environmentally-friendly disposal of your unused medications.

When you explore safer options expect to hear “Why don’t you just flush them down the toilet?” Just because this method is still common practice does not make it the most responsible or safest practice.

Keep in mind, proper medication disposal is still an emerging environmental issue. Even experts and officials differ greatly on what should be done about the problem.

If you must dispose of your unused medications in the trash, which is still better and safer than the sewer (except for the controlled medications referred to above), you may want to place a little water into solid medications or solidify liquid medicines with a little kitty litter, sawdust or flour. This may help keep your medications from being taken accidentally by a child or pet.