What Do I Do With My Unused Medications, Needles, or Syringes?

This is a question that comes across quite frequently: "What do I do with my unused medications?" The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is an advocate for precautions on disposal of chemicals and other hazardous waste including medications. They have continued to find supporting evidence that the flushing of medications is raising levels in the ecosystem, to low, but potentially disturbing levels to the environment. The Drug Enforcement Agency, in an effort to prevent the abuse of medications, promotes the disposal of unused medications. The concern being that more and more unused medications are becoming available to youths.

This raises the question once again, "What DO I do with my unused medications?" MassDEP advises not to flush them, while the DEA advises to dispose of them. Depending on what the medication is, there are some different options.

Dispose of medications in the common house garbage; empty the contents into the garbage and remove and labeling that could identify the medication or yourself.

Unused Meducation Waste

If a medication contains an ingredient that is deemed hazardous as defined in 310 CMR 30.100. they should not be disposed of by common means and will require special disposal by a hazardous waste facility. Medications, if not controlled substance as deemed by 21 CFR 1308.11–1308.15, meet the MassDEP regulations and may be disposed of in the common house garbage. An advisory by the Department of Public Health states that when disposing of such medication, to do so in a manner that makes the medication less desirable and/or unusable. As always, you should remove the label to your medication bottle for shredding. If the medication does contain hazardous material, then its disposal must meet the regulations of both the DEA and MassDEP. There are programs in your local area for the disposal of such. Some are free and some are fairly inexpensive. At the end of this article you will find some resources for your local hazardous waste facility.

NEW --- As of July 2012, sharps and syringes are not to be included in common household garbage. Sharps and syringes must be disposed of at your local Sharps Collection Center. Violation of this regulation is punishable by no more than a $25,000 fine and or up to 2 years in prison.

Take part in your local "Take Back" program and bring your unused medications to be properly disposed of.

"Take Back" programs have been created in an effort to promote the proper and safe disposal of unused medications. Each year thousands of children 18 years and younger are brought to the emergency room for unintentional overdoses of prescriptions and over the counter medications. "Take Back" programs help to prevent these occurrences, they work to prevent medications leaking into our drinking water, they work to prevent drug abuse, and they help to reduce the cost of healthcare - because preventative care is an important step to remaining healthy.

The next question is, "Can I get a refund for this medication?" The answer to this question is that pharmacies are bound by laws and regulations, and some of them require the answer of "No" to this question. We are not able to accept the return of unused medication. Not only does the Board of Public Health prevent us from doing so, but the governing bodies for the dispensing of medication have rules and regulations limiting returns to long term care facilities - and even these can only return select medications and over the counter products.

Medications when prescribed appropriately and taken correctly can help you live a better life. Help to protect our environment and find programs for your unused medications; keep your sharps in a sharps container to help us all remain safe; and never hesitate to ask questions when you do not understand something about the safety of disposing your medications.


Jeremy KW Spiewak, CPhT, MA RPhT, BA Chemistry, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Got Sharps?


Shattuck Pharmacy's FREE Sharps Disposal Program can help you to dispose of them safely.

Read more about it HERE and find out how you can do your part!


Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know. Food and Drug Administration [online]. 2011. Available through US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed August 19, 2011

Needles and Syringe Disposal. Mass.gov [online]. 2011. Available through Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Accessed August 19, 2011

310 CMR 30. Mass.gov [online]. 2011. Available through Department of Environmental Protection. Accessed August 19, 2011

Prescription Drug Disposal Programs Can Deter Drug Abuse, Protect Our Environment. The Hills Congress Blog [online]. 2010. Available through National Community Pharmacists Association. Accessed August 19, 2011

105 CMR 480 Minimum Requirements for the Management of Medical or Biological Waste (State Sanitary Code Chapter VIII). Mass.gov [online]. 2013. Available through Department of Public Health. Accessed August 12, 2013

Additional Resources:


List Of Medications TO Be Flushed For Disposal (FDA.gov)

National Community Pharmacists Association Dispose My Meds Campaign

Protecting Our Water Supply

Safe Disposal of Needles and Syringes

Original Published:August 2011

Revised:September 2013