Prescription Drug Disposal

This message of #WeeklyWisdom is brought to you by Moira McJury, Prevention Coordinator for Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County. This week’s message focuses on disposal of prescription drugs.

October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month (NMAAM). NMAAM is an annual campaign intended to raise the public’s awareness of the dangers of prescription and over-the-counter medicine abuse. Medicine abuse can be particularly dangerous and under-identified because many people think that medications prescribed by a doctor are safe. While doctor-prescribed medications and over-the-counter medicine is safe when taken as instructed or recommended by a doctor, they are very easily abused. These drugs are often taken in excess, used recreationally, and mixed with other substances to increase intoxicating or “high” effects.

According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), almost one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time began by using a prescription drug for non-medical purposes. This is in part due to the ease of access to prescription drugs that comes with their availability in grocery and corner stores, as well as the tendency to leave these drugs out in the open or in unlocked medicine cabinets.

Anyone who has prescription or over-the-counter drugs in their home should be well-versed in medication disposal. Most cities and towns have a number of drop boxes throughout the area where unused or expired medication can be dropped off for safe disposal. See attached image for a list of these sites in Tompkins County.

If you are unable to access a drop box, consider using a Deterra Drug Deactivation kit to dispose of your expired medicines. The easy-to-use Deterra bags allow you to destroy prescription and over-the-counter medications easily from the comfort of your own home. The bags are made of non-toxic materials and have been proven to deactivate medication (including pills, patches, liquids, creams, and films) in a safe and environmentally sound manner through activated carbon technology. The Council is excited to have access to Deterra bags through the NYS Office of Addiction Services and Supports (NYS OASAS). If you are interested or in need of some of these bags, please do not hesitate to contact us at 607-274-6288 or

If neither of these options are accessible to you, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Check to see if your medication is on the FDA Flush List:
    If you are able to flush the drug you wish to dispose of, do so immediately.
  2. If the medication is NOT on the flush list and there are no other specific disposal methods listed on the packaging, follow these steps:
    • Mix medicines (liquid or pills; do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unappealing substance such as dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds
    • Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag
    • Throw away the container in your trash at home
    • Delete all personal information on the prescription label of empty medicine bottles or medicine packaging, then trash or recycle the empty bottle or packaging.

Join the fight against medicine abuse and overdose by taking responsibility and safely storing and disposing of your prescription and over-the-counter medications. We are all in this together!