Pharmacy Awareness Month - The Importance of Safe Drug Disposal

3 mins

Safe drug disposal is essential to preserve the cleanliness of our wastewater systems and the surrounding environment. Medications that are improperly disposed of concentrate in these areas and directly affect wildlife as well as humans. Here’s what you should try to remember:

1. Make sure to bring back unused and expired medications to your local pharmacy or a takeback site, which include police stations.
If this is not possible, some sites offer special programs where you can mail back unused and expired prescriptions. Other sites will mail you an in-home medication disposal kit. It is especially important that you don’t keep unused and expired medications for a variety of reasons. Medications are prescribed for an individual person only, so there may be serious consequences if children or adults other than yourself end up ingesting your medication. These consequences include unintended harm, abuse or diversion, and even death.  

2. Disposing of medications improperly results in significant harm to surrounding bodies of water and the environment.
Multiple studies have shown evidence of improper medication disposal resulting in the eradication of fish in waste-impacted bodies of water such as lakes, streams, and rivers. Aside from marine animals, land that comes into contact with affected waters is also affected by drug contamination. This does not only affect land critters by sickening animals and disrupting ecosystems, but humans as well. Surface water and ground-level contamination accumulate over time, leading to negative lasting effects on different populations that coexist on our planet.  

3. On top of environmental damage, improper drug disposal has other associated risks.
Certain individuals may attempt to reclaim a medicinal substance from groundwater or other contaminated liquids through the process of reconstitution (restoring the original substance). Following successful reconstitution, these individuals may decide to use the substance for purposes including ingestion or resale. If you cannot safely dispose of old or expired drugs, it’s important to remember that mixing them with something unappealing like coffee grounds or kitty litter helps to prevent abuse and diversion. This is only if you absolutely need to dispose of medication in the trash or flush it down the toilet. As well, for personal safety, ensure that you have scratched out personal information on medication containers such as name, doctor, personal health number (PHN), address, birthdate, and so on.  

Pharmacy takeback efforts are grounded in reducing the risk of health-related harm to the general public, through accidental ingestion to drug abuse and everything in between, as well as to the surrounding environment and wildlife. Proper drug disposal is a relatively new concept, so if you have questions regarding any part of the process, please make sure to get in touch with your local pharmacist. They are able to provide education and address your questions or concerns.  


  1. Research C for DE and. Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know [Internet]. FDA. FDA; 2021 [cited 2022 Mar 6]. Available from:
  2. Canada H. Safe disposal of prescription drugs [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2022 Mar 6]. Available from:
  3. Lubick N. Drugs in the Environment: Do Pharmaceutical Take-Back Programs Make a Difference? Environ Health Perspect. 2010 May;118(5):A210–4.