Keeping and Disposing of Drugs Safely:
Prescription Drug Take-Back Program
Virginia's statewide Drug Take-Back Day is an effort to prevent prescription drug abuse and to keep trace drugs out of our lakes and streams. In communities all across the commonwealth, it is a day where citizens can drop off their unused, unwanted, or expired medications at their local law enforcement agencies for safe disposal.
The Office of the Attorney General, the Secretary of Public Safety, the Virginia State Police, and local law enforcement agencies are working together to participate in this nationwide U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's National Take-Back Day.
Drug Take-Back Day is a day where citizens can drop off their unused, unwanted, or expired medications at their local law enforcement agencies for safe disposal.
Drug Take-Back Day is an effort to prevent prescription drug abuse and to keep trace drugs out of our lakes and streams (wastewater treatment plants cannot remove many compounds found in medications; so when flushed or put in a landfill, drugs are discharged into our surface and ground water and consumed by fish and wildlife).
- It's anonymous and free
- Prescription and over-the-counter medications will be accepted
- Please, no intravenous solutions, injectables, or needles
Why are drug take-back programs important?
Take-back programs are the safest method for disposing of prescription drugs because they are organized and closely monitored by local, state, and federal government agencies. These agencies ensure the proper disposal of the drugs in accordance with federal law.
The dangers of not properly disposing of prescription drugs
A growing concern across the commonwealth is prescription medications being taken from medicine cabinets or the trash by those who abuse drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2006, nearly seven million Americans over the age of 12 reported abusing prescription medications. In fact, approximately 60 percent of people who abuse prescription painkillers indicate that they obtained the prescription drugs from friends or relatives for free, often taking the drugs without permission.
Children or pets may ingest undisposed or improperly disposed medications. This can lead to overdose, injury, and even death.
Many people believe that flushing or simply throwing away drugs is the best way to dispose of medications, however, if not disposed of properly, the drugs can contaminate the ground and waterways. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove or process many compounds found in medications. Instead, when flushed or put in a landfill, the drugs are discharged into our surface and ground water.
Pharmaceutical contaminants in water have been shown to cause serious harm to fish and wildlife living in and near rivers and lakes. Humans can also be exposed to these chemicals when they drink water drawn from contaminated bodies of water or eat wild game or fish. The long-term human health risks from exposure to even very small amounts of these chemicals is not yet known.
Home disposal: What to do on other days of the year when there is no take-back program available
If a take-back program is not available, home disposal, when completed correctly per the instructions below, is another option to dispose of prescription drugs:
- Step 1- Remove medications from their original containers. If the medication is solid, crush it or add water to dissolve it and then mix the medication with an undesirable substance, such as kitty litter or coffee grounds. This makes the mixture unattractive to children and pets and unrecognizable to potential abusers who may go through your trash.
- Step 2- Place the mixture in a container with a lid or in a sealable baggie to prevent the medication from leaking, and throw it into the trash.
- Step 3- When discarding the original containers, scratch out or remove identifiers on the bottle and/or packaging.
- DO NOT dispose of medications in the toilet or sink, unless specifically instructed to on the label.
- DO NOT give medicine to friends or family. This is not only potentially illegal, but a drug that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.
- When in doubt, consult your pharmacist.
Manual for localities: "Hosting a Successful Prescription Drug Take-Back Event”
In 2010, the Office of the Attorney General created a task force to create a model practice aimed at helping localities hold successful drug take-back events on their own.
Tip card with directions for the proper disposal of prescription drugs
View the attorney general's "Tips for the Proper Disposal of Prescription Drugs.”
To request tip cards for distribution, email