Guidelines for Medication Disposal: Take Back Day


Those looking to dispense medications should consult the individual guidelines for their local Take Back Bin.

Woman disposing of medication -- Image credit: Halfpoint |

Image credit: Halfpoint |

Between 2004 and 2010, a 94% increase in drug-related emergency room hospital visits was reported due to an increased use of pharmaceuticals, such as prescription medication, over-the-counter drugs (OTC), and supplements.1 This increase in drug use could be attributed to the greater availability of prescription medication, which can facilitate the diversion for both intentional misuse as well as accidental ingestion.

In 2010, drug-related emergency room visits were as high as 2,478.30 per 100,000 population for people aged 18 through 20 years, and as low as 263.3 per 100,000 for people aged 6 through 11 years.1 The continued increase in incidents because of drugs obtained within family homes—such as medicine cabinets or free medications from friends—led the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to develop a program called National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. This initiative is intended to help reduce inappropriate access to medications and to prevent the disposal of drugs in a hazardous manner, such as flushing medications down the drain or toilet, which causes water pollution.

The National Prescription Drug Take Back campaign started in September 2010. It began as a collaboration between the DEA, federal and local governments, community, public health, and law enforcement entities. The idea behind the Drug Take Back campaign is to help address the nation’s need to dispose of expired, unused, and unwanted prescriptions and OTC medications responsibly and to help curtail the increase in prescription drug abuse. The DEA initially hosted a Drug Take Back Day on the last Saturday of every month between April and October; however, on September 25, 2010, Congress signed an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act into law which authorized the DEA to develop a program for the safe and convenient disposal of medications year-round.

Drug Take Back Bins are located at local pharmacies, police stations, and fire stations, where the public can dispose of their prescriptions and OTC medications year-round. The public should ensure that medications being disposed of are in their original container and any sensitive information—such as their name on the label—should be removed prior to disposal. Medications should be placed in a plastic bag before being deposited in the Take Back Bins.

Take-Back Bins typically accept the following medication types: prescription medications, patches, and ointments; OTC medications; vitamins; and pet medications. The following medications are not acceptable for disposal using Take Back Bins: hydrogen peroxide; compressed cylinders; aerosols (eg, asthma inhalers); iodine-containing medications; thermometers; alcohol; and illicit drugs (eg, marijuana, heroin, LSD). Despite these guidelines, each Take Back Bin location has the right to determine what medications are acceptable for disposal. It is recommended that users of this program should verify which medications are acceptable for disposal at their respective locations. For more information regarding local collection sites, visit

At Allegheny Health Network Outpatient Pharmacies, we strive to address our patients’ needs and desires as part of our daily operations. As such, we have implemented Drug Take Back Bins at all 8 outpatient pharmacy locations. At these sites, the public can dispose of prescription pills, patches, and ointments, as well as OTC medication (eg, vitamins); however, liquid prescriptions or liquid OTC medications, inhalers, and pre-filled syringes or pens are not acceptable for disposal.


U.S Department of Health and Human Services. Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2010: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. 2012. Accessed April 15, 2024.

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