Safely disposing of unused medications

Proper disposal of unused medications helps combat the opioid crisis.

The opioid crisis remains a priority for medical professionals, public health, and law enforcement.

Prescription pain medication misuse and abuse can lead to addiction and the increased risk for accidental overdoses, possibly resulting in death.

In 2019 alone, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses.

Patients prescribed opioids or other pain relievers should store them securely, and they should be taken as prescribed. However, once the medication is no longer needed, they should be removed from the home and properly disposed of to avoid the risk for misuse or abuse.

How to safely dispose of unused medication

Local programs exist for the purpose of providing a location to accept and properly dispose of unused or expired medications.

Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network 

Macomb County Health Department Medication Disposal Service

Oakland County Sheriff Operation Medicine Cabinet

Household trash should be the last resort and used only if a drop-off site is not an option. Place an unpalatable substance such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter in a plastic bag, mix in opioids (do not crush) and throw in household trash. Be sure to remove the prescription label or scratch out personal information before disposing of the original container.

While flushing medications down the toilet may seem like a safe way to dispose, this pollutes the water and unintentionally exposes humans and wildlife to the chemicals in these medications.

Facts about the opioid crisis

  • It is estimated that 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • 8 to 12 percent of people using an opioid for chronic pain develop an opioid use disorder.
  • Nearly 52,000 American children under age 6 were treated at emergency rooms for medicine poisonings — that is an average of one child in the US every 10 minutes.
  • Three in five teens report easy access to pain medication stored in their parents’ medicine cabinet.