Safe Storage and Disposal
Protecting your family and your community is the number one reason to safely store and dispose of your medications. Safe storage is easy! When you’re finished using your medication, dispose of it promptly at a permanent disposal site, bring it to a Take Back Event, or utilize a home disposal option. Learn how to safely dispose of other medical supplies such as sharps and liquids. Get involved with our disposal programs such as hosting a Take Back Event or applying for a fully funded, permanent medication take back box for your organization. Be sure to check out our educational resources and evidence behind our safe storage and disposal initiative.
WHY IS SAFE STORAGE AND DISPOSAL IMPORTANT?
Protecting your family and your community is the number one reason to safely store and dispose of your medications.
|Every 10 minutes a child visits the emergency room for medication poisoning.1|
|Three in five teens say prescription medication is easy to get from their parents’ medicine cabinet.|
|9.2 million people ages 12 and older have misused opioids in the past year.2|
|Among people aged 12 or older who misused pain relievers in the past year, half of them indicated that they obtained the pain relievers they misused from a friend or relative.3|
|3 of 4 people who use heroin started with prescription opioids.4|
Our Disposal Programs
Partner with OPEN to offer safe methods to dispose of unused and unwanted medications. Take a look at our FREE disposal programs.
HOW TO STORE MEDICATIONS SAFELY
Store opioids out of sight and reach of children, teenagers, and pets
- Lock up medications if possible.
- Try a medication lock box, safe, or drawer with a lock!
- Store opioids in private areas, do not store in common rooms like the bathroom or kitchen.
- Do not store medications in a purse.
- Keep count of how much medication is left.
- Talk about the risks of opioids with family and friends.
Traveling with medications
- Keep medications in their original containers. Medications should be labeled with dosing information and instructions.
- Keep medications out of reach of children. This can be done by using a lockable suitcase or by storing medications in lockable containers.
- Bring a list of your medications. This helps you keep track of the medications you have with you.
- Consider bringing a medication deactivation pouch with you in case medications need to be disposed of during your travels.
Opioids Safe Storage & Disposal
Share how to safely store and dispose of opioids with this FREE educational brochure.
HOW TO DISPOSE OF MEDICATIONS SAFELY
There are several known risks of opioid use, including side effects, accidental medication poisoning, intentional medication misuse, development of opioid use disorder, and opioid overdose. Safe medication disposal can help prevent harm from opioid exposure. When you get a prescription, consider having a conversation with your provider about safe storage and disposal options.
There are four main options for medication disposal:
- Medication deactivation bags,
- Mail-back envelopes,
- Permanent disposal locations, and
- Medication take back events.
If you have any medications – including opioids – that are no longer needed, these should be safely disposed of as soon as possible. The best options are to use the at-home disposal options of a deactivation bag or a mail-back envelope, or to bring the medications to a permanent disposal location in your community. If these supplies are not available to you, the next best option is returning medications at an upcoming local take back event. If none of these options are accessible, you can mix medications with coffee grounds or cat litter and dispose of them in the garbage; note that this does not deactivate the medications. If absolutely necessary, medications can be flushed down the toilet; this method has environmental concerns and does not deactivate the medications, but it can be considered as a last resort to keep you and your family safe from opioid exposure.
OPEN can help with safely disposing medications through our current disposal programs.
HOME DISPOSAL OPTIONS
Talk with your pharmacist about home disposal options such as medication deactivation bags and mail back envelopes.
Drug deactivation bags
- Place your unused medications in the deactivation bag, follow the instructions on the bag for deactivation (such as filling the bag with water), and place the bag in the garbage once the medications have been deactivated.
- This disposal option allows medications to be deactivated safely and immediately. This is a great option for individuals who are recovering from surgery and may not be able to leave the house for other safe drug disposal options.
- Make sure you carefully read drug deactivation instructions on the bag. Do not put too many pills in one bag, or they may not deactivate properly.
- One option is Deterra System drug deactivation pouches. Learn more about how to use Deterra.
- Place your unused medications in a mail-back envelope, seal the envelope, and place it in the mail. Many envelopes offer pre-paid postage with the cost of the envelope. Once mailed, you can track the return of your medications to a destruction facility.
- This disposal option allows medications to be tracked and safely destroyed, and it only requires a trip to the mailbox. Make sure you write down the tracking number before mailing your medications so you can track them. While you can track your medications, the medications cannot be traced back to you; this is an anonymous medication disposal option.
- There are multiple great options: American Rx Group mail-back envelopes; Stericycle mail-back envelopes; and Sharps Compliance, Inc. TakeAway envelopes.
- Mix opioids (do not crush) with used coffee grounds or kitty litter in a plastic bag and throw in household trash.
- Scratch out personal information on prescription labels and dispose of original medicine containers.
- Flush medications down the toilet (only if absolutely necessary). This method has environmental concerns and does not deactivate the medications, but it can be considered as a last resort to keep you and your family safe from opioid exposure.
PERMANENT DISPOSAL SITES
Pharmacies, police stations, and hospitals are sites that commonly accept unneeded medications. Use the Household Drug Take Back Map or search “medication disposal near me” in an internet browser to locate permanent disposal locations in your community.
Find a permanent disposal site near you:
- Michigan Household Drug Take Back Map
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
- Controlled Substance Public Disposal Locations: Search Utility
- National Association of Boards of Pharmacy: Drug Disposal
- Meijer drug take back kiosk at over 200 pharmacies
- CVS Pharmacy medication disposal locations
- Disposal and recycling sites across Michigan
EpiPens, sharps, and inhalers require additional disposal precautions and are not always accepted at disposal sites.
We recommend calling your local disposal site to confirm their hours and the items they accept for disposal.
Permanent Disposal Guide
This guide provides instructions on how to implement a permanent disposal box, including financing, governance, education, and evaluation.
TAKE BACK EVENTS
OPEN supports biannual medication take back events in the spring and fall. Through partnerships with law enforcement and community health organizations, we are able to support Take Back Events across the state of Michigan. Typically the event day matches National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.
Interested in participating?
Sign up for the Take Back Event program or subscribe to the OPEN newsletter for more information. About two months before the event, OPEN will create specific event pages with information for hosting. OPEN can support ordering disposal boxes for your event and provide planning resources, including our Medication Take Back Event Guide.
View previous events!
Take Back Event Guide
This outlines each step of the Medication Take Back Event planning process.
Join us in hosting a Take Back Event. Community take back events are one of the safest and most environmentally-friendly means of disposing unneeded medications. Take back events are a great opportunity for community organizations and individuals to come together to make a difference in their local community. Subscribe to our newsletter for the most up to date information.
DISPOSAL FOR OTHER MEDICAL SUPPLIES
Medications are often administered using medical devices or used alongside medical supplies. Needles might be used to inject medications or draw medications from bottles, syringes could be used to give oral or intranasal medications, or patches could be used to give medications through the skin. Some medications come in different forms, like breathing medications that come in inhalers or children’s medications that come as liquids. These medications might need to be disposed of differently than pills, capsules, or tablets. Continue reading below to find out more about how to safely dispose of different kinds of medications and supplies.
Sharps & Liquids Safe Disposal
Learn how to safely dispose of needles, lancets, and liquid medications.
- Use a container made for sharps. If not available, create your own sharps container using a thick plastic container, such as an empty laundry detergent container. Clearly label the container with “SHARPS – do not recycle.” Milk jugs, disposable water bottles, and soda bottles should not be used for sharps.
- When the container is 3/4 full, dispose of your container at a specific sharps collection site.
- Visit safeneedledisposal.org to find a disposal location near you.
- Contact your local government office and ask about household hazardous waste collection events.
- Contact your trash service and ask about your container pick-up.
- Find a safe disposal location near you – try this map!
- Dispose of sharps in your household garbage as a last resort only: when the container is 3/4 full, replace the container’s lid and seal the container with duct tape. Make sure the container is labeled with “do not recycle” and dispose of the container with household garbage. Used sharps should never be recycled.
- Sharps that still contain medications, such as expired, unused epinephrine pens (such as EpiPen ®) should be returned to a local healthcare facility that accepts both medications and sharps. Local emergency rooms are often able to accept these sharps for disposal. Make sure you call in advance to ensure the location can accept your sharps and to confirm when you should drop them off.
- Inhalers can be returned to certain permanent disposal sites. Call ahead of time to ensure the site accepts inhalers for disposal.
- Inhalers can be returned using appropriate mail-back envelopes, such as these envelopes available through American RX Group. Follow the instructions included with the envelope to return the inhaler(s).
- Keep the liquid medication in its original container and take to a disposal site.
- Liquid medications can be returned to a local permanent disposal site. Call ahead of time to ensure the site accepts liquid medications for disposal.
- Liquids can be returned using mail-back envelopes. Ensure the liquid is sealed in its original container before placing it in the mail-back envelope.
- Liquids can be poured into an activated carbon drug deactivation pouch. Follow the instructions on the pouch to effectively deactivate the liquid medication.
- Patches can be returned to a local permanent disposal site. Call ahead of time to ensure the site accepts medication patches for disposal.
- Patches can be returned using mail-back envelopes.
- Patches can be placed into an activated carbon drug deactivation pouch. Follow the instructions on the pouch to effectively deactivate the medication patches.
RESOURCES STORAGE AND DISPOSAL
Learn how to safely dispose of needles, lancets, and liquid medications.
Learn how to safely store and dispose of opioids.
Learn how to successfully host a Medication Take Back Event in your community.
Utilize our Take Back Event resources to run a successful event.
Learn how to implement a permanent medication disposal box program in your community.
Learn how to facilitate discussion on safe disposal of unused opioids with your healthcare provider.
Learn about OPEN’s impact in safe storage and disposal.
- Adler, A.C., Yamani, A.N., Sutton, C.D., Guffey, D.M., & Chandrakantan, A. (2020). Mail-back envelopes for retrieval of opioids after pediatric surgery. Pediatrics, 145(3). https://dx.doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-2449
- Brummett, C.M., Steiger, R., Englesbe, M., Khalsa, C., DeBlanc, J.J., Denton, L.R., & Waljee, J. (2019). Effect of an activated charcoal bag on disposal of unused opioids after an outpatient surgical procedure: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Surgery, 154(6), 558-61. https://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamasurg.2019.0155
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2022). Results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed tables. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2021-nsduh-detailed-tables
- NIDA. 2015, October 1. Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-opioids-heroin/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use on 2023, January 18
- Safe Kids Worldwide. (2019). Medicine Safety Study – Safe Kids Worldwide. MEDICINE SAFETY: A KEY PART OF CHILD-PROOFING YOUR HOME. Retrieved January 18, 2023, from https://www.safekids.org/sites/default/files/medicine_safety_study_2019-final.pdf
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP21-07-01-003, NSDUH Series H-56). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/
- Upp, L.A., & Waljee, J.F. (2020). The opioid epidemic. Clinics in Plastic Surgery, 47(2), 181-90. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cps.2019.12.005