How to Dispose of Medications after a Death

Adult Wondering How to Dispose of Medications after a Death

Disposing of medications after a death in the family is one of the things that need to be done by grieving loved ones. Keeping unused medicines after they are no longer needed may cause unnecessary risk, especially if there are children in the home.

Exposure to dangerous medicine in the home is a major cause of unintentional poisoning in children. According to the FDA, there are approximately 60,000 emergency cases and 450,000 poisoning cases made after children below six years old accidentally ingest the medication.

The agency strongly recommends to the survivors to remove unneeded medicines from your home to prevent anyone from accidentally taking or intentionally abusing them.

Especially important are narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances that contain opioids. The leftover opioid prescription can easily be used unintentionally or illegally abused.

Keep children, pets, and loved ones safe by proper ways to dispose of medications after a death. Make sure that unused medicines are not accidentally, touched, ingested, or misused.



Depending on the expiration date and the ingredients, unused medications should either be donated or disposed of properly.

Here are the things you should not do with unused medicines:

  1. Do not put the medication in the recycle bin.
  2. Do not give medication to anyone else, even if your friend or relative has the same ailments. Doctors prescribe medications depending on that person’s specific symptoms. A drug that works for your deceased loved ones may be dangerous to someone else.
  3. Do not put the medicines in the trash without dissolving them – scavengers both humans or animals may find them and misuse them.
  4. Don’t flush the medication down the toilet. Drugs that are flushed in the toilet go into our waterways and pollute the environment.



The new federal laws created the take-back program to help people safely dispose of unused medications. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration regularly conducts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events that enable the public to bring unused medications to an accessible location for proper disposal.

It is illegal for doctors, hospitals, or pharmacies to take back medicines that have already been prescribed. The best way to dispose of unused drugs is to take them to the take-back site.

Unused, unwanted, or expired medication either prescribed or over the counter can be dropped off at the drug take-back location. The collected medicines are destroyed at regulated incinerators.

Take back locations do not accept needles, injectables, or intravenous solutions.

Authorized take-back collectors may include hospitals, pharmacies, and local law enforcement agencies.

Other take-back options include:

  • Take-back events – the Drug Enforcement Administration designate a specific day for people to take their unused medications to a central collection place.
  • Disposal by mail – check if your pharmacy offers mail-back envelopes for prescription drug disposal.
  • Collection receptacles – you can find secure drug collection receptacles in many communities.

Call your county or city government to see if a take-back program is available near your area.


Medicines that are opened, closed to expiration or expired are not eligible for donation.

If the unused medication is unexpired, sealed, and not a narcotic or opioid, the best thing to do is to donate it. Some states have recently passed laws that allow people to donate their unused medicines.

You may be able to donate to charitable pharmacies and clinics after your medications are inspected by the institution and meet strict quality and safety standards.

You can give your donation to authorized collectors such as:

  • Hospitals
  • Non-profit clinics
  • Law enforcement collection sites
  • Pharmacies
  • Prescription drug collection programs

Find your local disposal locations by clicking this link.

Donated medications are given to patients who have no life insurance, low income, or those who can’t afford the high cost of medications. The rising costs of drugs and saving someone in need makes donating your medicine the best option for disposal.

There are also some programs for donating unused medications overseas like the World Medical Relief. If you want to donate to this program, the medications must be at least six months before expiration. They must be put in a sealed container or package.

Refrigerated medications are not accepted.

There are also some private programs for donating unused medications like Sirum. This program is used by 200 donating facilities and other receiving organizations such as federal and county-owned health centers and clinics that serve low-income patients.

Drug donation is the best option because it means less waste, and it prevents the unused medication from polluting the environment. It also helps the recipients financially because they don’t have to buy newly manufactured meds.


Another way to dispose of medication after a death is by flushing medications down the sink or toilet. Flushing should be done only if the label instructs you to do so (remember that these medications will often go to our local water treatment plants, lakes, or rivers to be used for drinking water….not good!).

If a take-back program is not available in your area and the unused medication appears on the FDA’s “flush list” you can flush the medication down the toilet or sink. 

Flushing should be used to eliminate the risk of harm to children in the home or drug overuse. It is a quick removal method of medications to prevent accidental exposure.

The FDA Flush List enumerates which old, unused, unwanted, or expired medicines to immediately flush on the toilet or sink when take-back options are not available.


List of medications you can safely flush:

  • Avinza
  • Buprenorphine
  • Daytrana
  • Demerol tablets
  • Demerol oral solution
  • Diastat
  • Dilaudid tablets
  • Dilaudid oral liquid
  • Dolophine Hydrochloride
  • Duragesic
  • Embeda
  • Exalgo
  • Fentora
  • Kadlan
  • Methadone Hydrochloride
  • Methadose
  • Morphine Sulfate tablets
  • Morphine Sulfate oral solution
  • M.S. Contin
  • Nucynta ER
  • Onsolis
  • Opana
  • Opana ER
  • Oxecta
  • Oxycodone Hydrochloride capsules
  • Oxycodone Hydrochloride oral solution
  • Oxycontin
  • Percocet
  • Percodan
  • Vicodin
  • Xyrem

You can find the complete revised listing at FDA’s Web page on “Disposal of Unused Medicines”

These medicines should be immediately flushed down the drain when they are no longer needed to prevent accidental ingestion. Most of these medicines are narcotics or opiates.

These drugs should not be thrown in the trash because it may still provide an opportunity for a child or pet to ingest the medicine accidentally.

They are especially harmful, in most cases fatal with just one dose if they are taken by someone other than the person it is prescribed to. Some of the adverse effects include breathing difficulties or heart problems that could lead to death.

For example, a fentanyl patch is an adhesive patch use to relieve pain. It comes with instructions to flush after use or any leftover patches.

Too much fentanyl can cause severe breathing problems that may lead to death in babies, children, and pets. Adults may also die from a fentanyl overdose, especially if it is not prescribed to them.

The most common drugs used in prescription overdose deaths are oxycodone, methadone, and hydrocodone. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of opioid overdoses involve prescription opioids.

Immediately flushing the medicines in the flush list keep pets, children, and other individuals safe by making sure these potentially dangerous drugs are not accidentally touched, ingested, or misused.


There are some reports that traces of prescription medications have been found in streams and lakes. While FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency take this threat seriously, FDA officials said that most of these traces come from the feces and urine or people who are taking these drugs.

The agency further explains that there has been no indication of environmental effects due to flushing medications.

According to EPA, scientists to date have found no evidence of adverse effect from drug residues in the environment. However, they do not want to add drug residues into water systems unnecessarily.

FDA believes that the known risk of harm that these medicines can do to humans from accidental or illicit use far outweighs the potential risk to human health and the environment.

However, FDA will continue to conduct a risk assessment as part of a more extensive activity related to the safe use and disposal of medicines.


If the medication is not on the flush list, you should follow these instructions to dispose of the medicine in your trash at home:

  1. Do not crush the pills. Keep the medications in its original container to help identify the contents if they are accidentally ingested.
  2. Remove or mark out your personal information to make it unreadable, but leave the name and dose of the medication on the container. Blacken your name and prescription number for safety. This will protect your identity and privacy of your health information.
  3. Add some inedible substance to the medication and then replace the lid.
  4. For pills: add some soda or water to dissolve the pills.
  5. For liquid: add something inedible like cayenne pepper, dirt, or cat litter.
  6. Put the medicines in a leak-proof container like a coffee can.
  7. Place the bottle or blister packs inside an opaque container like plastic laundry bottle or coffee can.
  8. Close the lid and secure with packaging or duct tape
  9. Hide the container in the trash
  10. Dispose of the trash as close to pick-up day as possible.

Don’t let your unused medication pose a safety hazard. By following this easy medication disposal steps, you can ensure the safety of our children and pets in our household.

It is important that you dispose of medications after a death the right way. By working together, we can all reduce the incidence of poisoning and medication abuse by properly disposing of medications.

For more information on how to dispose of medications after a death, please visit the following links:

Printable: Consumer Health Information

How to Dispose of Unused Medicines

Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know

Where and How to Dispose of Unused Medicines


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