Pharmacy Services

Disposal of Prescription Medications in the Community - Federal Guidelines

April 28, 2014

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released guidelines in February 2007 for patients to properly dispose prescription drugs, developed jointly with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency. These guidelines are intended to reduce drug diversion, prevent accidental ingestion by children or animals, and minimize effects on the environment.

The guidelines recommend using community medication take-back programs to dispose of most prescription drugs.  If no medication take-back program is available, dispose prescription drugs in the trash, after first mixing the medications with an undesirable substance (eg, coffee grounds, cat litter) and sealing the mixture in a plain container.

Flushing down the toilet is recommended only for a select few medications. Although these “flushable” medications are effective and safe when taken as prescribed, they are potentially fatal in single doses, if taken by someone other than the intended patient (eg, children, pets). The known risks of serious toxicity from accidental ingestion outweigh the potential risks of flushing these medications (eg, exposure of people or the environment to trace amounts in water). “Flushable” medications include:

  • Buprenorphine: transdermal patches (Butrans);
  • Buprenorphine hydrochloride: sublingual tablets (generic);
  • Buprenorphine hydrochloride / naloxone hydrochloride: sublingual tablets (Zubsolv, generic); sublingual film (Suboxone);
  • Diazepam rectal gel (Diastat, Diastat AcuDial);
  • Fentanyl: buccal soluble films (Onsolis), buccal tablets (Fentora), oral transmucosal lozenges (Actiq, generic), sublingual tablets (Abstral), and transdermal patches (Duragesic, generic);
  • Hydromorphone: extended release tablets (Exalgo), oral liquid (generic), and tablets (Dilaudid, generic);
  • Meperidine hydrochloride: oral solution (generic) and tablets (Demerol, generic);
  • Methadone hydrochloride: oral solution (Methadose, generic) and tablets (Dolophine, Methadose, generic);
  • Methylphenidate transdermal (Daytrana);
  • Morphine sulfate: extended-release capsules (Avinza, Kadian), extended-release tablets (MS Contin, Oramorph SR, generic), immediate-release tablets (generic), and oral solution (generic);
  • Morphine / naltrexone extended-release capsules (Embeda);
  • Oxycodone hydrochloride: extended-release tablets (Oxycontin, generic), immediate-release tablets (generic), immediate-release capsules (generic), and oral solution (generic);
  • Oxycodone hydrochloride / acetaminophen tablets (Percocet, Roxicet, generic);
  • Oxycodone hydrochloride / aspirin tablets (Percodan, generic)
  • Oxymorphone: extended-release tablets (Opana ER) and immediate-release tablets (Opana)
  • Sodium oxybate oral solution (Xyrem);
  • Tapentadol hydrochloride: extended-release tablets (Nucynta ER), and immediate-release tablets (Nucynta);
  • Other medications whose package insert or patient information recommends this disposal method.

Additional disposal tips include:

  • Get rid of any personal information from medicine containers. This will protect your privacy.
  • Never give prescription medications to family or friends. Drugs do not cause the same effects in all patients, and a drug that is safe and effective for you may be harmful to someone else.
  • Ask your pharmacist if you have any other disposal questions.

Many counties throughout the state have available locations where residents may drop off drugs for incineration. Hours vary by location, but most sites are only available during normal business hours (8AM - 5PM Monday through Friday). Visit http://useonlyasdirected.org/safe-disposal-drop-off-locator to find drop off sites in your area.

Additional information is available at the following links:

Updated
April 28, 2014; April 14, 2014; September 6, 2011; October 19, 2009; September 10, 2009; October 14, 2008; October 20, 2008; July 1, 2008; March 18, 2008; September 26, 2007; May 16, 2007; April 17, 2007; University of Utah, Drug Information Service. Copyright 2009, Drug Information Service, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT.