Hollon_K_HeadshotSanders_M_headshotby Kaelan Hollon and Marlene Sanders

When it comes to household safety, most people think about checking the smoke detectors or electrical outlets. Few people think about prescription and over-the-counter medications, but taking, storing and disposing of your medicines safely are important parts of keeping your home safe.

Prescription medications, when used correctly, are critical to improving and extending patient health. But medicines misused or abused can be dangerous and even deadly. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, often through the medicine cabinet.

One of the most helpful ways to help fight prescription drug abuse is learning how to properly dispose of your prescription medications, and there are several easy ways to do this within your home and community. We recommend taking advantage of in-home disposal, as this is an easy, safe and efficient way to immediately dispose of unused or expired medications, without waiting for a take-back event or making a trip to drop off.

Here’s what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) say on how to dispose of medication:


  • Follow any specific disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanies the medicine. Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
  • Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal.
  • If no disposal instructions are given on the prescription drug labeling and no
    take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash following these steps: 1. Remove them from their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter (this makes the drug less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through the trash seeking drugs); and 2. Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.

A few additional things: first and foremost, take all of your medicine as prescribed. Take extra precautions to secure your medicine if you have children or visitors in your home, and always remove personal information from the labels of your medicine. There are several medicines (mostly controlled substances) that the FDA recommends immediately flushing when you’re ready to dispose of them; that list is here.

Learn more about prescription abuse and ways to keep your family safe at www.phrma.org/prescription-drug-abuse.


Kaelan Hollon is the senior director of communications and public affairs for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), and Marlene Sanders is the chairwoman for PhRMA’s Tennessee Taskforce. For more information about PhRMA, visit http://www.phrma.org/