Disposing of Unused Drug Samples

Improper disposal of drug samples is an environmental concern—and a potential liability issue if the medicines are taken by others and then cause harm.

Federal disposal guidelines, issued by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in February 2007 and updated in October 2009, are summarized here:

  • Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information card that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
  • 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 to see if a take-back program is available in your community. The Drug Enforcement Administration, working with state and local law enforcement agencies, sponsors National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days throughout the United States.
  • If no instructions are given on the drug label and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the office trash, but first:
    • Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds. The medications will then be less appealing to children and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
    • Put the medications in a sealed bag, empty can, or other container to prevent them from leaking or breaking out of the garbage bag.

Inhalers are considered environmental waste in some areas. Read the label for disposal instructions and/or contact your local recycling facility for disposal information.


The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider in light of all circumstances prevailing in the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.

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