Disposal of Unwanted Medications

The Problems

While prescription and over-the-counter medications can help people and animals when used appropriately, the same medicines can be dangerous to people, animals, and the environment when used, stored, or disposed of improperly.

  • Over-the-counter and prescription medications – for both humans and animals – are now a leading cause of poisonings in our pets. Visit 10 "poison pills" for pets to learn more.
  • Neither septic tank systems nor municipal sewage and water treatment facilities can eliminate all pharmaceutical contamination poured down drains or flushed down toilets. By disposing of drugs into the water system, the problem is not solved, but transferred to water which we 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.

How you can be part of the solution

  • Use medications as directed.
  • Never pour or flush pharmaceuticals down drains or toilets.
  • Do not take unwanted or expired medications to your veterinarian for disposal unless he or she has state or federal authorization to collect pharmaceuticals for disposal.
  • Dispose of unwanted or expired medications, including prescriptions for controlled substances, through authorized take-back events, mail-back programs, and collection receptacles.
  • Learn more about drug disposal programs offered in your area:
  • If you are instructed to dispose of the medications in trash (not an option for prescriptions of controlled substances)
    • Remove or blacken out all personal information.
    • Leave visible the drug information (drug name, concentration, dose, volume, pill count, etc.)
    • If a medication's bottle is designed to be opened, remove the lid, add a safe and unpalatable substance (e.g., kitty litter or used coffee grounds) to the medication in the bottle, replace the lid, and then seal the bottle in a leak-proof bag or other container.

AVMA Activities

In May 2016, the AVMA renewed 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 collaboration and communications between animal owners and veterinarians to establish optimal prescription quantities and potential refills to address the animal health needs on an individual basis and to minimize potential pharmaceutical waste.


Relevant AVMA Policies

Additional Resources