Medication Disposal

Medicines 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 medicines 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.

You have three options to properly get rid of unused, expired prescription or over the counter medications.

BEST option – Controlled Substance Drop Boxes

More than 50 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 such as Adderall, Vicodin, Morphine, etc. as well as other prescription and over the counter medications may be disposed of in these collection boxes and then properly destroyed. You may find a list of these sites here.

Many non-controlled prescription medications (medicines with NO known abuse potential) may be returned to Iowa pharmacies participating in the Iowa Pharmacy Association’s “EcoReturns” program. There are over 400 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. A locator tool for these sites can be found here.

BETTER option – DEA Take Back Days

Although you may have to wait, twice each year, on a Saturday in the Spring and Fall, law enforcement agencies team up with local pharmacies and other organizations in over 100 Iowa communities to sponsor a special one-day collection of unused medicines. Details typically are provided closer to the dates of these events, but general information is available at 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 better options are not practical, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends you carefully discard of medicines as follows: (1) follow patient instructions, (2) remove medicines from original containers (do not crush tablets or capsules) and 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. Before throwing out your empty pill bottle or other empty medicine 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. To prevent accidental ingestion by children, pets, or anyone else, a few medicines have specific disposal instructions indicating they should be flushed down the sink or toilet as soon as they are no longer needed, and when they cannot be disposed of through a medicine take-back program. Please contact your local pharmacist to learn more.

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

For additional information on how to properly dispose of needles, lancets, etc. please reference this document