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Managing unwanted pharmaceuticals

Unused drugs kept in medicine cabinets, tossed in the garbage, or flushed down the toilet or drain can be serious threats to human and environmental health. In one recent national study, scientists analyzed streams for 95 different organic wastewater contaminants, including pharmaceutical compounds. One or more of these wastewater contaminants appeared in 80 percent of the streams. Risks posed to aquatic organisms by long-term exposure to various pharmaceutical compounds are unknown. Wastewater treatment plants and septic systems usually do not treat or only partially treat pharmaceuticals, so chemical compounds from pharmaceuticals pass through treatment plants or septic systems to rivers or groundwater.

Drugs of concern include controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs, as well as over-the-counter medications. Proper management of these drugs reduces avoidable poisoning of both children and adults; prevents intentional misuse of unwanted prescription drugs, especially by teenagers; and protects water quality and fish.

Disposal recommendations for household pharmaceuticals


  • Dispose of pharmaceuticals down a drain or toilet.
  • Burn household waste containing pharmaceuticals.


  • Take waste pharmaceutical to a designated collection site.
  • Take waste pharmaceuticals to a Drug Take-Back event, periodically sponsored by the US Drug Enforcement Agency or other non-profit agencies.

    2016 National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day
    Oct. 22, 2016
    10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
    Locations will be open throughout Oregon.

  • If no Drug Take-Back sites or events are available, dispose of waste pharmaceuticals in the trash. Follow these basic guidelines:
    • Take waste pharmaceuticals out of their original containers. Tape the lid on the container if it is not child-proof and there are children in the home;
    • Mix the waste pharmaceuticals with an undesirable substance such as cat litter or used coffee grounds;
    • Place this mixture in a plastic sealable bag or a sealable container, such as an empty margarine container especially if liquid;
    • Remove labels from empty containers or conceal with marker, any patient information and;
    • Place the sealed container with the mixture and the empty pharmaceutical containers in the trash as close to garbage pickup time as possible.

Other links

For information about disposal of infectious waste or medical waste, please visit:

[print version]


For more information about DEQ's Land Quality programs, visit the DEQ contact page.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
Headquarters: 811 SW Sixth Ave., Portland, OR 97204-1390
Phone: 503-229-5696 or toll free in Oregon 1-800-452-4011
Oregon Telecommunications Relay Service: 1-800-735-2900  FAX: 503-229-6124

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is a regulatory agency authorized to protect Oregon's environment by
the State of Oregon and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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