Disposal of Unwanted Medications

The Problems

When used appropriately, prescription and over-the-counter medications can help people and animals. When used, stored, or disposed of in the wrong way, these same beneficial products may become harmful to people, animals, and the environment.

  • Did you know that over-the-counter and prescription medications – for both humans and animals – are now a leading cause of poisonings in our pets? It's the tragic truth. Just like the FBI's most wanted, there's the top 10 "poison pills" for pets.
  • Another serious fact is that neither septic tank systems nor municipal sewage and water treatment facilities can eliminate pharmaceutical contamination once a medication is poured down a drain or flushed down a toilet. By getting rid of drugs this way, the problem is not solved – it's just transferred to the environment, especially the water we all depend upon. A wide range of pharmaceuticals have been found in rivers, streams, groundwater, and drinking water nationwide. Visit The Environmental Protection Agency's website, Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in Water, for more details.

What can you do instead of flushing medicines that aren't needed anymore?

  • Return unwanted/expired medicines to pharmacies and other locations participating in take-back programs.
  • Take the medications to authorized waste collection sites, if permitted in your state. Locations near you may be found at Earth911.
  • Ask your veterinarian for advice on how to dispose of unwanted or expired medicine.
  • Check your state's guidelines on medicine disposal. The EPA provides a national list of state and local waste management authorities.
  • If you're instructed to dispose of the medications in the trash (sometimes necessary, but not preferred):

    • Remove or blacken out all personal information;
    • Add a safe and unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds to the medication in the bottle of pills or liquid if its lid is designed to come off, and then replace the bottle's lid [For medications in containers designed not to have their lids taken off (injectables, certain mastitis treatments, eye drops, spot-ons, etc.), add the medication in its container to a sealable bag containing a safe and unpalatable material.];
    • Seal the medication in a leak-proof bag or container;
    • And then add two more layers of outer packaging, one of which needs to be puncture proof and both of which are sealed to prevent leaks.

What's the AVMA doing about it?

In November 2011, the AVMA signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the National Sea Grant Office (NSGO), Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce to combine efforts and develop a joint outreach and educational campaign for veterinary clients regarding proper pharmaceutical disposal. The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant represents the NSGO for this project, and has excellent relevant public resources at Unwantedmeds.org.

Goals of the MOU

  • Tell as many people as possible not to flush medications, and share with them the reasons and alternatives;
  • Share safety information on how to properly store medications out of reach of children and animals;
  • Reinforce to animal owners the necessity of following veterinarian directions in giving medications to their animals as well as with disposing of any unneeded doses;
  • Increase public awareness of pharmaceutical disposal options and rules;
  • Enhance animal owner – veterinarian collaboration and communication on an individual basis so that the optimal prescription quantity and potential refills are established to address the animal health needs and to minimize potential pharmaceutical waste.



Relevant AVMA Policies

Additional Resources