To Flush or Not To Flush – How To Dispose of Unused Opioids

PR Newswire PR Newswire • October 3, 2019

Many people receive prescriptions for opioids following surgery, and while they can help with pain management, these drugs can also be highly addictive. Now that the country is in the middle of an opioid crisis, many people are raising awareness of opioid addiction and want to take whatever steps possible to avoid developing dependence. Oftentimes patients may not need to take all pills prescribed, and should be cautious of how they dispose of the pills.

Unused opioids can be dangerous in an easily accessible medicine cabinet in a home with young children and/or teenagers. In addition, some medicines can be harmful, or even fatal, if they are taken by someone they are not prescribed to. Depending on the medication, there are several options to safely dispose of opioids, from flushing to discarding in the trash.


Many people are concerned about flushing opioids because they do not want chemicals to get into the local ecosystem. The United States Food & Drug Administration released a “flush list” consisting of medications that are safe to flush down the toilet. These medications include the following:

  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Tapentadol
  • Buprenorphine
  • Meperidine
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Sodium oxybate

Additionally, some people take patches that contain fentanyl. These patches adhere to the skin, and should be flushed as soon as removed to prevent someone, especially small children, from finding them in a trash can. Doctors recommend folding the sticky sides to adhere to one another before throwing in the toilet.

Take-Back Programs

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration frequently sponsors drug take-back programs in various cities consisting of authorized collectors from local law enforcement agencies, pharmacies and hospitals. The organizations plan local take-back events where people can bring in their unused drugs for safe disposal. Many pharmacies also offer mail-back programs, where patients can send in unused medication at any time .

Many cities also provide collection receptacles—secure bins for unused medication to be dropped off. Local law enforcement agencies can provide specific information on where to find drop off receptacles in the area.

Physician’s Office

Physicians can also give the best options for proper disposal of specific medications. Medication disposal bags, which neutralize the medicines to make sure they do not harm the local environment, are available at most physician offices.

Household Trash 

Many professionals recommend against putting opioids in the trash. Trash bins that contain opioid waste can possibly attract addicts or other unsavory people. However, if disposal in a waste bin is the only option, precautions should be taken to lower the risk of anyone else obtaining and using the drugs.

First, remove the drug from its container and then scrape away any identifying information. Then mix the drug with undesirable substances, such as kitty litter, dirt or coffee grounds, rendering the substance unrecognizable to someone potentially going through the trash.

Next, place this mixture of substances in a resealed bag to prevent the opioid from spilling or leaking out. Then, throw the bag into the garbage along with the altered packaging. Again, this method is recommended as a last resort in the event there are no other options for disposal.

Package Instructions

Many opioid prescription medications have instructions for disposal of unused portions printed right on the bottle. If not, the pharmacy where the medication was obtained should be able to provide proper instructions.

The Best Way To Dispose of Opioids

While there are several options to dispose of opioids safely, the Drug Enforcement Agency highly recommends taking prescription to a take-back program if there’s one available, even if the drugs are flushable. Take-back programs are considered the best and most responsible option.

However, many people live in small towns where such take-back programs do not exist. In that instance, one of the other methods can work. Local police stations and drug stores have information on take-back programs in the area. The DEA website is also a good resource.

There are several options for getting rid of unused opioids. Many people believe it is wise to hang onto the medication in case they experience that level of pain again; however, this increases the risk for abuse and excess opioids should always be destroyed and discarded.

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