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Is your medicine cabinet filled with expired drugs or medications you no longer use? Before you just toss them in the trash, please read further…

Unused and expired pharmaceuticals are a public safety issue, with the potential of poisoning, overdose, and abuse. If they are disposed of in the trash, they may be retrieved and taken by children or pets, and if they are disposed of in the toilet, they can contaminate drinking water.

Guidelines for Drug Disposal

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) worked with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to develop the first consumer guidance for proper disposal of prescription drugs. Issued by ONDCP in February 2007 and updated in October 2009, the federal guidelines are summarized here:

• Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to.

• Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service (see blue pages in phone book) to see if a take-back program is available in your community. The Drug Enforcement Administration, working with state and local law enforcement agencies, is sponsoring National Prescription Drug Take Back Days ( throughout the U.S.

• If no instructions are given on the drug label and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash, but first:

Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to peo¬ple who may intentionally go through your trash.

Put them in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.

Additional Tips

FDA’s Deputy Director of the Office of Compliance Ilisa Bernstein, Pharm.D., J.D., offers some additional tips:

• Before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.

• Do not give medications to friends. Doctors prescribe drugs based on a person’s specific symptoms and medical history. A drug that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.

• When in doubt about proper disposal, talk to your pharmacist.

Bernstein says the same disposal methods for prescription drugs could apply to over-the-counter drugs as well.

Disposal Locations in Gallatin County

That’s why it’s important to properly dispose of prescription drugs, through annual Take Back days, which are scheduled periodically throughout Gallatin County. There are also free disposal boxes available 24 hours/day and help to keep these medications out of the wrong hands. Disposal boxes can be found:

  • Belgrade Police Department lobby, 91 E. Central Ave. (2 blocks behind CHP, Belgrade)
  • Bozeman Police Department Downtown Station lobby, 34 N. Rouse Ave. (1/2 block east of CHP, Bozeman)
  • Gallatin County Law and Justice Center lobby, 615 S. 16th Ave.
  • Livingston Police Department lobby, 414 E. Callender Street
  • Manhattan Police Department lobby, 120 W. Main Street
  • West Yellowstone Police Department lobby, 124 Yellowstone Ave, (1 block E. of CHP, West Yellowstone)

If you have any further questions, please contact the The Gallatin City-County Health Department’s Environmental Health program at 406-582-3120 or email

Information courtesy of Healthy Gallatin