Pharmaceutical Drug Waste

Pharmaceutical waste refers to unused or expired prescription and over-the-counter drugs or medications; substances intended to be swallowed, inhaled, injected, applied to the skin or eyes, or otherwise absorbed; veterinary drugs; diagnostic agents; and nutritional supplements.

Disposal of Pharmaceutical Drug Waste

Do not dispose of waste pharmaceuticals down the drain or down the toilet. Sewage systems cannot remove these medicines from water that is released into lakes, rivers or oceans.

First check with your pharmacist to find out if a take-back program is available where you shop. 

The following steps are recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) to properly dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals: 

  • Keep medicine in its original child-resistant container
  • Scratch out or mark out the patient information on the label
  • Place some water into solid medications, such as pills or capsules, and then add something nontoxic and unpalatable such as sawdust, kitty litter, charcoal, or powdered spices
  • Close and seal the container lid tightly with packing or duct tape
  • Place medicine container in durable packaging that does not show what’s inside such as a cardboard box or paper bag
  • Place in the trash


For more information about pharmaceutical (medication) waste go to:

For your information, the HHW Program can accept all pharmaceuticals except controlled substances, so if you choose to do so please make your next trip to the Poway, Vista or Escondido Facility or your door-to door pick-up worthwhile by also disposing of those "left-over" medicines.