How and where can patients and caregivers dispose unused medications safely? — Name withheld on request

DEA Drug Take Back Day The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Drug Take Back Day is a national event coordinated with community partners and local law enforcement officials to provide an opportunity for patients and caregivers to dispose of unused medications. These medication collection events can help to prevent drug abuse by removing access to medications. The previous event, held in April 2019, involved more than 6000 collection sites and collected more than 468 tons of unused medications. Since the first event in 2010, more than 5900 tons of unused medications have been collected.

The next DEA Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, October 26, 2019. Information on locations and other drug disposal opportunities is available on the DEA website.

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Year Round Drug Disposal Locator Tool Another helpful tool for patients or caregivers seeking a way to dispose of medications is the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) AWARxE Prescription Drug Safety Program Drug Disposal Locator Tool. The tool contains links to more than 7000 drug disposal locations. Both law enforcement sites and pharmacy locations are included. Of note, this tool only includes permanent drug disposal sites, so temporary locations such as Drug Take Back Day events are not listed here.

If these options are not available, NABP suggests the following procedure for disposing unused medications and sharps:

  • Check the label for any instructions regarding medication disposal. In most cases, flushing is not recommended; however, some medications need to be flushed if no take-back options are available.
  • If no special instructions are provided, NABP suggests mixing the leftover medication with an undesirable substance (eg, dirt, coffee grounds, cat litter) and placing the mixture in a sealable bag, can, or container before disposing in the trash.
  • Sharps should be placed in an FDA-cleared disposal container, available through a pharmacy, medical supply company, or a health care provider. A heavy-duty plastic household container, such as a laundry detergent container, can be used in place of an FDA-cleared container. Ask your pharmacist or doctor where the container can be disposed.