Managing unwanted medications

Examples of waste pharmaceuticals

Studies show that medicines flushed down the drain can contaminate our lakes and streams, which can hurt fish and other aquatic wildlife, and end up in our drinking water. This is because most existing municipal wastewater treatments systems cannot remove medications from the wastewater. Some medications, such as hormones and antidepressants, interfere with the reproduction and normal growth of many aquatic species, such as frogs and fish. Links to studies are found below.

Prevent abuse and accidental poisoning

avoid accidential poiseningMedicines in home cabinets are the second highest cause of accidental poisoning in children and adults. These drugs are also highly susceptible to misuse and abuse. Studies show that people who abuse prescription drugs often obtain them from medicine cabinets of family and friends. Make sure you store all medications in their original containers and in a place that children and visitors cannot easily access. Sort through medications annually and properly dispose of outdated and unneeded medications.

How can I properly dispose of medications?

New regulations issued by the Drug Enforcement Agency in September 2014 will allow pharmacies to collect medications — but pharmacy collection will not be available in Minnesota until sometime in 2015 and not all pharmacies may choose to collect unwanted medications.

Take it to the box icon

Fortunately for Minnesotans, there are currently more than 150 medication collection boxes at law enforcement facilities in Minnesota.

These programs accept all medicines from households, including prescription, over-the-counter, liquid, solid, and pet medicines. Contact your county sheriff’s office or city police office to find out if there is a permanent collection site near you.

  • HTML icon Rethink Recycling - Medicine & Prescription Drugs

    Across the Twin Cities, many counties and local law enforcement agencies have installed drop boxes or are organizing collection events to give residents the opportunity to properly and safely dispose of unwanted, unused and expired medicines. Programs typically accept all medicines from households, including prescription, over-the-counter and pet medicines.

Disposing of medications when a collection site isn't available

Don’t flush old or unwanted prescriptions or over-the-counter medications down the toilet or drain.

Incineration at a permitted Waste-To-Energy facility is the best method for destruction of household pharmaceuticals. If you know your garbage goes to an incinerator, you can safely dispose of your medications using the instructions below. If your garbage goes to a landfill and you would prefer not to wait until a collection option is available, it is still better to follow these instructions than to flush any medications.

  • Keep the medication in its original container. The labels may contain safety information and the caps are typically childproof. Leaving the content information clearly visible, cover the patient's name and prescription number with permanent maker.
  • Modify the contents to discourage anyone from taking the medication. For pills or capsules, add a small amount of vinegar to the container to partially dissolve them. Add table salt or flour to liquids.
  • Seal and conceal the medication container. Tape the lid shut with duct tape and place the container inside a non-transparent piece of trash, such as an empty margarine tub. For blister packs, wrap packages containing pills in opaque tape like duct tape.
  • Throw the container in the garbage.
disposing of medication

Other pharmaceutical and related wastes

  • Chemotherapy drugs in capsule form may be taken to a collection site in the original container. Liquid chemotherapy drugs should be returned to the clinic that issued them or sewered at home due to the potential to expose collectors and the public to cytotoxic drugs.
  • Mercury-containing devices cannot be safely incinerated, so do not bring mercury thermometers or other devices to medication collection boxes. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin. Please check around the house for any cooking or fever thermometers, blood pressure cuffs or other mercury-containing products and take them to your county household hazardous waste collection facility. Medication collection sites do not accept mercury-containing devices.
  • Unused needles and syringes that still contain medication may be put in medication collection boxes if they are first placed in a puncture proof container. Used needles are not accepted at medication collection sites. Contact your county solid waste office to find out whether there is a collection option for needles. Never place containers with used needles or syringes in a recycling bin or loose sharps in the garbage.

What's in our water?

Research by the MPCA confirms that a wide variety of unregulated chemicals is ending up in Minnesota's lakes and rivers. The chemicals, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products, are of concern because many have properties that can interfere with the functioning of hormones in animals and people.

HTML icon Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (U.S. EPA)