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How Pharmacies Should Dispose of Expired Medicine or Drugs

One of the benefits hazardous waste management companies can offer a pharmacy is expertise regarding compliant disposal of expired medications. Because it is common for various medications to expire before use in a pharmacy and they require proper disposal, stay up-to-date on federal and state regulations for compliant medication disposal for hazardous and non-hazardous drugs. Consequences for non-compliance are severe.

01 / Disposal of expired medication: what pharmacies need to know
Regulations and rules regarding the disposal of expired medications were put in place to reduce the risk of accidental use by those who find them in the trash and prevent them from making their way into those who would abuse them. These rules also help protect the environment.

Some expired medicines are classified as hazardous pharmaceutical waste. That means they may contain components that are toxic, reactive, ignitable, or corrosive in nature. Steps must be taken to ensure safe and proper disposal.

In the past, expired and even non-expired but unused pharmaceuticals of all kinds were simply dumped down sink or floor drains or flushed down toilets into sewer lines. This is now illegal. In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned this practice.

Even so, some pharmacies still dump their expired medication in the trash or down the drain, which introduces extremely dangerous elements into the environment and puts a pharmacy at risk of fines and other consequences for not following the law as it relates to proper pharmaceutical disposal.

02 / What medications must be properly disposed of?
All medications have a shelf life – a period of time where that medication remains at full potency and stability. After that shelf life has passed, a pharmacy must properly dispose of it. In most cases, that means the pharmacy will send the drug (if unopened) to a reverse distributor, or dispose of it through a licensed and experienced waste management company.

03 / Reverse distribution and pharmaceutical waste management
In the case of an unused or unopened medication that has simply expired, you might be able to send that to a reverse distributor. Reverse distributors send medications back to the manufacturer for credit. The pharmacy might or might not receive payment from the reverse distributor for that transaction. Be aware that reverse distribution is only an option if that medication is considered “reusable,” meaning it hasn’t been opened, used, or contaminated.

Before opting for a reverse distributor, consider their processes and costs, such as add-on fees that can include shipping labels and costs for disposal for non-creditable, hazardous, or non-hazardous pharmaceuticals.

Disposal through a waste management company is also an option.

04 / About pharmacy generator status
Check with state laws regarding pharmacy generator status, which may differ slightly in some cases (check your state here) from the federal definitions or categories regarding hazardous waste pharmaceuticals.

05 / Benefits of working with a reputable waste management company for hazardous waste removal
Working with an experienced and reputable waste management company for hazardous pharmacy waste disposal comes with numerous benefits, including in-depth knowledge of federal and state pharmaceutical waste laws and regulations.

A trustworthy company can provide and guide the hazardous waste reporting requirements and processes for hazardous waste—from the initial stages through treatment and disposal.

This includes:

Yellow hazardous waste labels for your pails

Paperwork regarding the generation and origins of such waste

Reports detailing everything shipped that year

A company experienced with pharmaceutical waste can also provide guidance for waste segregation that facilitates a stable generator status. Such a company can also deliver separate pails for P-listed waste (anything acutely hazardous, such as Warfarin) and U-listed and D-listed wastes. Such segregation ensures that a pharmacy can accurately gauge and potentially avoid going over the limit of 2.2 pounds of acutely hazardous materials.

A waste management company can also help categorize and list the pharmaceutical formulary, which details all the drugs on-site and their waste codes. The medical formulary guides pharmacies to accurately determine what gets segregated into what category.


Follow these steps:

The drugs should be removed from their original containers and mixed with something undesirable, such as used coffee grounds or dirt, thus making the medicine less appealing to children and pets as well as unrecognizable to someone looking through the trash for drugs.

This mixture should be then put into something that can be closed (are-sealable zipper storage bag, empty can or other containers) to prevent the drug from leaking or spilling out.
Throw the container in the garbage.
Disposing of Inhaler Products
Inhalers and aerosol products could be dangerous if punctured or thrown into a fire or incinerator. These should be destroyed following local regulations and laws. You may contact your trash and recycling facility.

Flushing medicines:
Flushing could potentially harm the environment but because some medicines could be especially harmful to others, they have specific directions to immediately flush them down the sink or toilet when they are no longer needed.

Disposing of Fentanyl Patches
Some prescription drugs like Fentanyl Patches deliver strong pain medicine through the skin. A lot of medicine remains, even after a patch is used. Such powerful narcotic pain medicines and other controlled substances should be flushed to reduce the danger of overdose from unintentional or illegal use.

Disclaimer: The above information has been prepared by a qualified medical professional and may not represent the practices followed universally. The suggestions listed in this article constitute relatively common advice given to patients and since every patient is different, you are advised to consult your physician, if in doubt, before acting upon this information.


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