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Health and Benefits

National Prescription Take Back Day Aids In Proper Disposal

The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been sponsoring National Prescription Take Back Day since 2010. The idea is to give the public a safe way to dispose of unused and unwanted prescription drugs and to publicize the need for proper disposal.

Every year, people die from misusing prescription drugs. Sometimes, it’s a child who got into the family medicine cabinet or discovered old drugs in the trash.  Sometimes, it’s teenagers or even adults who are looking for something that will make them high. In 2017, over 6 million Americans misused prescription drugs.  While some used drugs purchased through illegal means, many others got their drugs from the home of a friend or family member. A 2018 report found that the number of small children hospitalized for opioid poisoning tripled between 1997 and 2012. The majority of the hospitalized children were toddlers or preschool kids. 

The DEA, in cooperation with local governments, sought a way to encourage the proper disposal of medications, both to prevent misuse and to protect the environment from improper disposal.  One solution was National Prescription Take Back Day.  The last National Take Back day was April 27, 2019.  On that one day, the DEA collected 937,443 pounds of unused prescription drugs.  That is 468.72 tons of drugs taken out of circulation.  The next scheduled Take Back Day will be October 26, 2019.  You can call the DEA at 1-800-882-9539 or check on the DEA’s website for locations of collection sites.

Proper Home Disposal of Unused Medication.

When a patient dies or is transferred to a nursing home, the family and caregiver need to collect the unused drugs and either take them to an authorized collection site or use the proper steps to dispose of them at home.  Using a permanent collection site is always the preferred method of disposal.

Some drugs can be flushed down the toilet, but not others.  Some drugs come with instructions to flush unused drugs down the toilet.  The FDA provides of list of drugs that can be flushed.  It includes: 

  • Benzhydrocodone/ Acetaminiphen (Apadaz),
  • Buprenorphine (Bunavail, Butrans, Suboxone, Subutex, Zubsolv),
  • Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora, Onsolis),
  • Diazepam (Valium),
  • Diastat, Acudial (anticonvulsants, can be a rectal gel),
  • Hydrocodone (Anexsia, Lortab, Norco, Reprexain Vicodin, Vicoprofen),
  • Hydromophone (Dilaudid),
  • Merperidine (Demerol),
  • Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose),
  • Methylphenidate (Daytrana transdermal patch system),
  • Morphine,
  • Oxycodone (Percocet, OcyContin, Percodan, Roxicet, Roxicodone, etc.),
  • Oxymorphone (Opana),
  • Tapentadol (Nucynta),
  • Sodium Oxybate (Xyrem oral solution).

Most of the drugs listed as safe for flushing are pain medications, especially opiates.  There are also some anxiety drugs and anticonvulsants.  The EPA has determined that the drugs on this list will have minimal impact on drinking water supplies, and that it is safe for the environment if we flush them down the toilet.    The flip side is that these are the drugs most likely to cause serious consequences if accidentally or intentionally ingested. They are also the drugs most likely to be stolen and resold on the streets to habitual drug users and kids. 

Home disposal of non-flushable drugs.  If a drug is not on the FDA’s list of flushable drugs, and if you cannot reasonably take it to a collection center, there is another safe home disposal method.  The EPA recommends that you take the drugs out of their original containers, mix the drugs with an undesirable substance such as cat litter, old coffee grounds, dirt, or vacuum cleaner contents.  That will disguise the medication and make it unappealing to pets or children.  Place the mixture in a sealed container or sealable plastic bag and throw it in the trash.  Also, to protect your privacy, make sure you remove all labels from prescription bottles.  Either destroy the label or scratch out all identifying information.

Permanent Collection Sites

In addition to National Take Back Day, the DEA and local governments have set up many permanent collection sites for consumers and caregivers to dispose of unused drugs.  People in rural areas may need to rely on home disposal methods, but if you live in or near a metropolitan area, the best and safest option is to take old medications to a collection site.  The collection sites in the Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff areas are too numerous to list.  Many local pharmacies are authorized as collection sites.  You can find a site near your home on this website by simply inputting your zip code:

People sometimes ask what happens to the medications they take to a collection site or turn in on National Prescription Take Back Day.  They are taken to a central location where they are rendered chemically inert.  The most common disposal method is incineration.  They are never put back into use or repackaged and sold.

Items That Are Not Accepted at Take Back Events.

There are a few items that cannot be returned to a collection center or during National Take Back Day.  Those items include needles or other sharps, asthma inhalers, mercury thermometers, iodine-containing medications, and illicit drugs.  These items are not accepted because they have the potential of putting collection personnel at risk.

Protect your family and the environment.  Dispose of old medications in a proper and responsible manner.



This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.