crush or flush? safe ways to dispose of medications

Posted by Dr. Jules Benson on Apr 14 2010


From time-to-time, you may have leftover medications following a treatment for your pet’s illness or injury. While it is sometimes appropriate to keep leftover medication for possible future use (always consult your veterinarian first!) usually, it is best to just throw away old medicines. Question is; what is the best, safest way to throw old medications out?

At one time, most people assumed the safest method of disposal was to simply flush unused medications down the toilet. It was believed that flushing old, unused medications protected both children and pets from accidental ingestion, as well as decreased the chance of the medication being misused.

It turns out that flushing the medications down the toilet isn’t such a great idea. Improvements in technology have made it possible to detect very low concentrations of chemical wastes. Studies have shown that municipal wastewater treatment facilities do not remove all pharmaceutical wastes and by-products. This means that our nation’s rivers, streams, and even our drinking water have trace amounts of our pets (and our own!) pharmaceutical by-products in them.

Better safe than sorry

Studies have shown that these trace pharmaceutical elements have no appreciable risk on human health. However, to help further mitigate any potential risk to our environment, wildlife and ourselves, for that matter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have created The SMARXT DISPOSAL Campaign to educate consumers about how to dispose of medicines in a safe and environmentally protective manner.

The SMARXT DISPOSAL Campaign gives straightforward, easy-to-follow advice on how to properly deal with and dispose of unused medications:

Do not flush unused medications and do not pour them down a sink or drain. Be proactive and dispose of unused medication in household trash. When discarding unused medications, ensure you protect children and pets from potentially negative effects:

a) Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag. If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.), crush it or add water to dissolve it.

b) Add kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds (or any material that mixes with the medication and makes it less appealing for pets and children to eat) to the plastic bag.

c) Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.
d) Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information (prescription label) from all medication containers before recycling them or throwing them away.

Check for Approved State and Local Collection Programs. Another option is to check for approved state and local collection alternatives such as community based household hazardous waste collection programs. In certain states, you may be able to take your unused medications to your community pharmacy or other location for disposal.

Consult your pharmacist with any questions.