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Medication Disposal

Have you ever wondered what you should do with your old or unused medications? There are a few different ways to dispose of your medications after you no longer need them. Medications play an important role in treating many conditions and diseases, but when they are no longer needed it’s important to dispose of them properly to avoid harm to others. By monitoring your medications at home and disposing of them in a safe manner, you can prevent the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs and protect Iowa’s water supply.

Here are three options to properly get rid of unused, expired prescription or over the counter medications:

BEST Option – Controlled Substance Drop Boxes

More than 300 community pharmacies and local Iowa law enforcement centers have established permanent collection boxes, and the number of sites is growing. At these sites, unused, expired controlled medications including but not limited to Adderall, Vicodin, Morphine, etc. may be disposed of in these collection boxes and then properly destroyed. Other prescription medications and over the counter medications may also be disposed of in these collection boxes. You may find a list of these sites here. Many of the pharmacies that have a collection box only allow medications to be dropped in it during their normal pharmacy business hours.

Many non-controlled prescription medications (medicines with NO known abuse potential) may be returned to most other Iowa pharmacies participating in a medication disposal program. There are an additional 100+ pharmacies in the state that collect medications in their community. These programs can take back any unused, expired non-controlled prescription or over the counter medications. For a list of these pharmacies, please contact the Iowa Board of Pharmacy.

BETTER Option – DEA Take Back Days

Twice each year, on a Saturday in the Spring and Fall, law enforcement agencies team up with local pharmacies and other organizations in many Iowa communities to sponsor a special one-day collection of unused medicines. They take back all medications including over-the-counter medications, controlled, and non-controlled prescription medications. Details are typically provided closer to the dates of these events, but general information is available on the DEA's website. For more information on the National Take-Back Initiative, visit the DEA's website

GOOD Option – Toss It in the Trash

When the other options are not practical or available, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends carefully discarding your medications as follows: (1) follow patient instructions; (2) remove medicines from original containers (do not crush tablets or capsules), mix with used coffee grounds, dirt, kitty litter or another undesirable substance, place the mixture in a sealed bag or can to avoid leakage; and (3) place in the trash for regular collection. Most importantly, before throwing out your empty pill bottle or other empty medication packaging, remember to scratch out all information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.

For safety to the public and the environment, the Iowa Pharmacy Association does not encourage flushing of medications down the toilet except as a last-resort option. A few medications have specific disposal instructions to prevent accidental ingestion by children, pets, or others. The labels of your medications should indicate when they cannot be disposed of through a medication take-back program and instead should be flushed down the sink or toilet when no longer needed. Please contact your local pharmacist to learn more.

*When in doubt about the proper disposal of medicines, ask your pharmacist.*