Safe disposal of prescription drugs
Expired and unused prescription medications are often left lying in medicine cabinets and cupboards. This leads to their potential misuse and abuse.
Adults and seniors may inadvertently take expired or unused prescription medications that are no longer effective. This can have dangerous interactions with other medications.
Drugs that have been prescribed to treat a medical condition, or ones that are sold over-the-counter, may not be safe for everyone. Safe disposal of unused and expired drugs ensures they do not end up in the wrong hands.
On this page
Help ensure that prescription drugs and other pharmaceuticals do not pose a risk to you and to others.
- Check your medicine cabinet and remove all expired and unused prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and natural health products. If you do not know if a drug is still safe, check with your pharmacist.
- Bring unused and expired prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and natural health products to your local pharmacist for proper disposal.
Do not flush medicines down the toilet or sink.
You can return your unused and expired medications to any pharmacy in Canada any day of the year.
In addition, some municipalities and local police forces offer take-back programs. These programs provide safe and easy ways to dispose of unused and expired drugs and health products we have in our homes.
Drugs collected in take-back programs include:
- prescription drugs
- over-the-counter medications
- natural health products
Unfortunately, these programs collect only a fraction of unused and expired pharmaceuticals. The rest end up in the environment, especially in the soil and in the water.
If the area you live in does not have a take-back program, contact your pharmacy or municipality for assistance.
If you must throw your medications in the garbage, take these steps:
- Remove medications from their original containers. Scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.
- Hide the medications in something unappealing, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. This makes the drug less attractive to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who go through the trash seeking drugs.
- Place this mixture in a closed bag, empty can or other sealed container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
Pharmaceuticals and the environment
Over the past few decades, there has been a dramatic increase in new human and veterinary drugs introduced to the Canadian marketplace.
Due to improper disposal of these drugs, there are traces of pharmaceuticals in the environment--in the soil and in the water. Concentration levels of these products may be very low. But they may be enough to have adverse effects on the environment and on human health. Effects can also build up over time.
For more information
- For more information on safe use of medicines, go to Health Canada's article on Using medications safely
- For more information on Canadian disposal programs, visit the following web site:
- National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities' Resources for Pharmacy Operators
- Canada Health Product Stewardship Association - Medication Return Programs in Canada
- For information on Health Canada initiatives, visit the following web sections:
- Date modified: