A Remedy for Residential
Managing unused medications is a safety as well as an environmental concern. Traditionally, we
were told to flush unwanted medications down the drain or toilet rather than keeping them around so
they would not be misused by the patient for the wrong symptoms or by someone else who was not
prescribed the medication and who might use the drugs recreationally. Although effective in
removing the medication from potentially being misused, flushing creates a new and growing
problem in the environment. Antibiotics and other medications in a septic system can destroy
beneficial bacteria necessary for the system to operate. Wastewater treatment plants are not
designed to remove or process many compounds found in medications that end up being
discharged into our surface and ground water. A study by the United States Geological Survey done
in 1999 showed that in 80% of the streams sampled contained detectable levels of compounds
found in common medications. National attention is growing to develop more appropriate methods
of safely disposing of unwanted medications.
NOTE: Information in this fact sheet does not apply to medications generated as waste from
Michigan businesses, hospitals, clinics, medical offices, etc. Those facilities should see the
Universal Waste guidance at www.deq.state.mi.us/documents/deq-ead-tas-univwaste.pdf.
What should citizens do with unwanted medications?
Take your medications per the instructions of your doctor or pharmacist. If you do end up with
1. Check with your pharmacy to see if they have a drug take back program. Some pharmacies
are beginning to accept medications back from the public as a community service. Controlled
substances (which are often prescription pain killers) can only be accepted under special collection
arrangements due to federal Drug Enforcement Agency regulations. Your pharmacy can help
identify controlled substances, or see the controlled substances schedules and “drugs and