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Collecting and Disposing of Unwanted Medicines

What to do with Unwanted or Expired Medicines

EPA encourages the public to take advantage of pharmaceutical take-back collection programs that accept prescription or over-the-counter drugs, as these programs offer a safe and environmentally-conscious way to dispose of unwanted medicines. This may be at a location such as a local law enforcement agency, retail pharmacy, hospital or clinic. To find a local law enforcement agency that is participating in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) twice a year National Prescription Drug Take Back Days, see DEA's website. To find other, more permanent  collection programs in your community, see DEA's authorized collector locator.

As a second choice, the public can utilize EPA's guidelines for household disposal of medicines (PDF) (2 pp, 500 K, About PDF).

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Information for Organizers of Take-Back Events or Programs

EPA recommends that household pharmaceuticals collected during a take-back event or program be incinerated. EPA prefers that the collected household pharmaceuticals be sent to a permitted hazardous waste combustor, but when that is not feasible, at a minimum they should be sent to a large or small municipal waste combustor. For additional information, check out EPA's recommendation for incinerating pharmaceuticals from take-back events (PDF) (9 pp, 1.6 MB, About PDF).

We strongly encourage law enforcement to participate in the DEA National Prescription Drug Take Back Days, because when they do, drugs are safely removed from households and ultimately destroyed while preserving local law enforcement resources. Law enforcement agencies that are interested in becoming participants in DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Days should refer to DEA's website. Law enforcement may also choose to collect unwanted household drugs at other times. EPA supports these efforts and wants to ensure that they are conducted in a manner that is protective of public health and the environment. Law enforcement agencies should refer to EPA’s memorandum that describes options that comply with the EPA, DEA, and DOT or USPS regulations that law enforcement can use to transport collected household drugs to incinerators.

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Information for Hospitals, Pharmacies and other Businesses with Unwanted Medicines

Hospitals, pharmacies and other businesses generating pharmaceutical waste generally cannot use take-back programs or events to dispose of expired, unwanted or unused pharmaceuticals. Public collection events typically do not intend to manage waste from businesses or comply with the regulations applicable to business waste. Healthcare facilities and healthcare-related businesses that generate pharmaceutical wastes are responsible for appropriately managing their wastes in accordance with all local, state and federal environmental regulations. This includes the rules for managing hazardous wastes if the wastes generated are identified as hazardous waste.

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