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Unwanted Medicines

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has partnered with the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force to promote safe disposal practices in Indiana. In addition to preventing medicine theft, prescription drug abuse, accidental poisoning, and identity theft, proper disposal of medicines also prevents adverse environmental impacts. Pharmacists, educators, health care providers, and waste managers are working to promote safe disposal. As a member of the Task Force, IDEM is helping to spread the word about alternatives.

What To Do With Unwanted and Expired Medicine

There are several options for properly disposing of unwanted and expired medications:

  • Unwanted medications may be taken to your local unwanted medicine take back collection site. Additional locations may also be found from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Controlled Substance Public Disposal Locations Search Utility.
  • Many of Indiana's local household hazardous waste collection programs accept unwanted medicine. Some counties hold household hazardous waste collection days, where prescription and over-the-counter drugs are accepted at a central location for proper disposal.
  • Some pharmacies offer for sale postage-paid envelopes that are used to mail in non-controlled substances for disposal.
  • Most take back sites do not accept syringes for destruction. Information on proper needle disposal is available on the Household Needles and Sharps page.
  • Preferred disposal methods vary based on the given medication(s).
  • School nurses who are in possession of leftover and unclaimed medications should seek assistance from the school-based law enforcement officer (such as the school resource officer) and the school contact for waste disposal. Additional information is available on the Disposal of Unused Medication in Schools fact sheet (available on the IDEM Fact Sheets page)

Remember, it is illegal to give controlled substances to anyone other than a police officer or a person who is under law enforcement supervision. All programs that accept controlled substances must be operated under the supervision of law enforcement.

What if Collections Aren't Available in Your Community?

If you must throw away unwanted or expired medicines, follow these instructions to protect your family and the environment:

  1. Dissolve tablets or capsules in the original container with a small amount of water. For liquid medications, add sawdust, kitty litter, or flour to the original container.
  2. Remove labels from prescription bottles or completely mark out all patient information.
  3. Put all lids back on the containers tightly and put them in a heavy-duty sealed bag to keep medications from leaking.
  4. Put the sealed bag in your trash so that it is not visible to prevent unintended use or contact.
  • Do not flush medicine down the sink or drain.
  • Do not give or sell medicine to family and friends..

What Other Ways Can I Reduce Unwanted Medicine in my Home?

  • Purchase only as much as you need. Ask your physician and/or pharmacist about trial quantities.
  • Centralize all medications in one location so you do not purchase products you already have.
  • Say "No" to samples if you are not going to use them.

Why Should I Dispose of Medicine Properly?

Unwanted and expired medicine may be a risk to human health and the environment if disposed of improperly.

Wastewater treatment plants and septic systems are not designed to deal with pharmaceutical waste. Many medicines pass through the systems and are released into streams, lakes, and groundwater.

How Does Medicine Affect the Environment?

Medicine in surface water may cause adverse effects in fish and other aquatic wildlife, as well as unintentional human exposure to chemicals in the medicine. Technological improvements are helping scientists detect trace amounts of medicine in surface water and study how it affects human and environmental health, but the research is just beginning.

U.S. Geological Survey research found that some aquatic organisms living in waters downstream from wastewater treatments plants are showing signs of developmental and reproductive problems. Researchers are working to determine whether these impacts are the effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

In the meantime, the best way to reduce the impact of pharmaceutical waste on the environment is to dispose of medicine properly. Find an local unwanted medicine take back collection site near you or read the Unwanted Medicines fact sheet (available on the IDEM Fact Sheets page) to properly dispose of medicine.

How is Indiana Addressing Medicine Disposal?

Indiana's pharmacists, educators, health care providers, and waste managers raised concerns about:

  • Medicine theft
  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Accidental poisoning
  • Identity theft
  • Clean water

In response to these concerns, IDEM and the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force developed the following information about unwanted medicine:

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