Before you throw those old medications away, read this

Old and unused medications have a way of migrating to the back of a drawer or closet shelf until there’s simply no room left and it’s time to clean house. But while it may be tempting to scoop up all those old medicine bottles and dump them in the trash can, they could end up in the wrong hands—or paws. Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent pets, wildlife, children and teens from getting into potentially dangerous medications by making sure that you dispose of them safely.

“There are two methods to dispose of medication safely,” said Andrew R. Kurtz, Pharm D., RPh, System Director for Retail Pharmacy Services at Penn Highlands Healthcare. “You can take them to an authorized collection site, or you can dispose of them at home using a set of guidelines to ensure it’s done safely.”

Option 1: Take medication to an authorized collection site.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration operates authorized collection sites throughout the region. You can find a collection site near you by visiting

Each site will determine what items they will accept, but in general you can dispose of the following items at these sites:

  • Over-the-counter medications.
  • Prescription medications.
  • Prescription patches.
  • Prescription ointments.
  • Vitamins.
  • Pet medicines.

There are some items that you cannot drop off at these sites, including:

  • Hydrogen peroxide.
  • Compressed cylinders or aerosols (such as asthma inhalers).
  • Iodine-containing medications.
  • Thermometers.
  • Alcohol and illicit drugs (such as marijuana, heroin or LSD).
  • Syringes.

Option 2: Dispose of medication safely at home.

“Taking unused medications to a collection site is the best option, but we know it’s not a feasible option for everyone,” said Mr. Kurtz. “If you dispose of medication at home, be sure to follow guidelines so that they do not pose a danger to others.”

Some medications are especially harmful, and they should be flushed down the toilet as soon as you no longer need them. To find out if a medication should be flushed, check the label (or information leaflet) or check the FDA’s flush list by visiting

Only flush medication if the label instructs you to or if it’s listed on the FDA flush list. All other prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs in pills, liquids, drops, patches and creams can be disposed of in the household trash by following these guidelines from the FDA:

  • Remove the medication from its original container and mix it with something undesirable, such as used coffee grounds, dirt or cat litter. This makes the medicine less appealing to children and pets and unrecognizable to someone who might intentionally go through the trash looking for drugs.
  • Put the mixture in something you can close (such as a resealable zipper storage bag, empty can or other container) to prevent the drug from leaking or spilling out.
  • Throw the container in the garbage.
  • Remove the label or cross out all your personal information on the empty medicine packaging to protect your identity and privacy. Discard the packaging.

“If you’re unsure how to safely dispose of a medication, contact your pharmacist for guidance,” said Mr. Kurtz. “By properly disposing of all medications, we make our neighborhoods and communities safer and healthier.”

Penn Highlands Community Pharmacies are full-service retail pharmacies open to all individuals in Clarion, DuBois, Punxsutawney, Reynoldsville and surrounding areas. Penn Highlands Community Pharmacies can service all of your pharmacy needs, from filling your prescriptions to offering a variety of over-the-counter medications and having licensed pharmacists available to provide medication consultations. Learn more at

drug disposal