Managing unwanted medications

Examples of waste pharmaceuticals

Studies show that medicines flushed down the drain can contaminate our lakes and streams, which can hurt fish and other aquatic wildlife, and end up in our drinking water. This is because most existing municipal wastewater treatments systems cannot remove medications from the wastewater. Some medications, such as hormones and antidepressants, interfere with the reproduction and normal growth of many aquatic species, such as frogs and fish. Links to studies are found below.

Prevent abuse and accidental poisoning

avoid accidential poiseningMedicines in home cabinets are the second highest cause of accidental poisoning in children and adults. These drugs are also highly susceptible to misuse and abuse. Studies show that people who abuse prescription drugs often obtain them from medicine cabinets of family and friends. Make sure you store all medications in their original containers and in a place that children and visitors cannot easily access. Sort through medications annually and properly dispose of outdated and unneeded medications.

How to properly dispose of medications

Don’t flush old or unwanted prescriptions or over-the-counter medications down the toilet or drain and don’t put them in the trash.

There are more than 240 medication collection boxes located at law enforcement facilities and pharmacies in Minnesota. These collection sites do not charge any disposal fees.

Take it to the box icon

Collection sites accept all medicines from households, including prescription, over-the-counter, liquid, solid, and pet medicines. Contact your county sheriff’s office or city police office to find out if there is a permanent collection site near you.

You can also use the links below to find the collection site located nearest to you. Please note that some of the pharmacy locations do not yet accept prescription pain relievers, such as OxyContin, Percocet and fentanyl. If you have these items, you should bring them to a law enforcement collection site.

Earth 911 — Locations that take medications
Enter “Medications” and your zip code in the search boxes. Also note the hours of operation for these sites and any other restrictions.

Rethink Recycling — Medicine and Prescription Drugs
For households located in the metro area, the link above also lists collection locations at law enforcement. These locations accept prescription pain relievers.

Disposing of medications when a collection site isn't available

Don’t flush old or unwanted prescriptions or over-the-counter medications down the toilet or drain.

Incineration at a permitted Waste-To-Energy facility is the best method for destruction of household pharmaceuticals. If you know your garbage goes to an incinerator, you can safely dispose of your medications using the instructions below. If your garbage goes to a landfill and you would prefer not to wait until a collection option is available, the better option is to purchase a mail back envelope from your local pharmacy, which ensures the contents will be managed by incineration.

  • Keep prescription medications in their original containers. Cover the patient's name and prescription number with permanent marker. Over-the-counter medications may be placed in a grocery or other non-transparent bag and placed in the garbage.
  • Modify the contents of prescription medications to discourage anyone from taking them. For pills or capsules, add vinegar to the container to dissolve them. Add table salt or flour to liquids.
  • Seal and conceal prescription medication containers. Tape the lid shut with duct tape and place the container inside an opaque piece of trash, such as an empty margarine tub. For blister packs, wrap packages containing pills in opaque tape like duct tape.
  • Throw the container in the garbage.

disposing of medication

Other pharmaceutical and related wastes

  • Chemotherapy drugs in capsule form may be taken to a collection site in the original container. Liquid chemotherapy drugs should be returned to the clinic that issued them due to the potential to expose collectors and the public to cytotoxic drugs.
  • Mercury-containing devices cannot be safely incinerated, so do not bring mercury thermometers or other devices to medication collection boxes. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin. Please check around the house for any cooking or fever thermometers, blood pressure cuffs or other mercury-containing products and take them to your county household hazardous waste collection facility. Medication collection sites do not accept mercury-containing devices and household hazardous waste collection facilities do not collect medications due to regulatory restrictions.
  • Unused needles and syringes that still contain medication may be put in medication collection boxes if they are first placed in a puncture proof container. Used needles are not accepted at medication collection sites. Contact your county solid waste office to find out whether there is a collection option for needles. Never place containers with used needles or syringes in a recycling bin or loose sharps in the garbage.

What's in our water?

Research by the MPCA confirms that a wide variety of unregulated chemicals is ending up in Minnesota's lakes and rivers. The chemicals, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products, are of concern because many have properties that can interfere with the functioning of hormones in animals and people.