How to store or get rid of pain medications

Safe storage and disposal of controlled prescription drugs may save a person’s life. It’s that simple.


If you have any medications such as opioid pain medicine, sedatives, benzodiazepines, or stimulants, they should always be kept in a safe place away from children, and others who might be tempted by their presence.

These medicines have important uses for treating pain, anxiety, muscle spasms and other ailments, however, are frequently prescribed in larger amounts than needed, leaving families with potentially abusable and addictive medications and little guidance on safe storage or disposal.

About three-quarters of young people who are addicted to heroin have their first exposure to an opioid through prescription pain pills, but not their own prescription. Friends or family members remain the main source of these pain medications, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and teens’ own prescription leftovers are an additional source of opioids for potential abuse. Many in this age group report they have unsupervised access to their controlled prescription drugs. It is very important to keep abusable medications locked up from all children including toddlers, teenagers and everyone in between. If there is medication leftover, these must be safely disposed of, here’s how.


There are a number of ways to get rid of leftover medications safely. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recommend flushing the medications down the toilet. However, many people are reluctant to flush medications for environmental reasons, there are several other options. Many DEA-approved pharmacies, police stations, fire departments, or sheriffs’ offices will take back abusable medications. Find a location near you on the DEA website, or locally at Many health care clinics have controlled drug disposal boxes or mailers for your use, and the national drug store chain, Walgreen’s has disposal boxes in many of their locations.

If there are no convenient local take back locations, medications can also be mixed with something unpalatable like coffee grounds, kitty litter or laundry powered detergent, sealed in a Ziploc bag and thrown into the regular trash.

Here are reminders of the safe use, storage and disposal of opioids and other controlled substances from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  1. DO NOT share medicines with anyone, including family members.
  2. DO NOT save medicines.
  3. DO lock medicines up and out of reach of children and teens.
  4. DO watch children and teens carefully as they take medicines.
  5. DO follow instructions from your doctor or on the label for how to use medicines.
  6. DO get rid of all old or unused medicines.