National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Counties Offer Ways to Dispose of Medications

Residents across the country often wonder how to properly dispose of left-over prescription medicine. Leaving it in unlocked medicine cabinets can be a danger as more and more teens are abusing unused pills.

Throwing medications in the trash or flushing them down the toilets can harm the environment. In order to help residents with proper disposal, counties have launched programs to assistand educate residents about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

Fresno County, Calif. recently completed the first year of its campaign “Lock it Up, Clean it Out, Drop it Off.” The program encouraged parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and any person that has children visiting their homes to ensure that unfinished prescription medicines were locked away or not easily accessible. Residents were encouraged to clean out unused medicine and drop it off at secure drop facilities at county and city police stations. In the first year, the program collected more than 1,500 pounds of medicine.

“Today’s results show we are making progress. Keeping these drugs out of the wrong hands, and having a safe and environmentally appropriate location to dispose of the drugs is instrumental in stopping the rising problem of prescription drug abuse among our teens,” said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.


Web Extra

Find out more about proper disposal of medicines at Smarxt Disposal. net, sponsored by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association and the Pharmaceuticals Research and Manufacturers of America


In addition to disposal boxes throughout the county, some counties also host disposal days for medications similar to other hazardous waste disposal days such as for paint or pesticides. For example, Cobb County, Ga. hosts medication disposal days to provide a safe and free method for residents to destroy their expired and leftover pharmaceuticals. County officials, with the assistance of a local health care facility and police, collected more than 3,000 pounds of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies during just two drop-off events. The items are placed in an incinerator for 12 hours, not only destroying the drugs, but also preventing any toxic emissions from being released into the air.


In Macomb County, Mich., a new campaign was prompted by recession-driven household changes. For economic reasons, many children and grandchildren were moving back home with aging parents or relatives. Since seniors often take several medications daily and were not used to having teens in the house, medication theft and abuse became more prevalent.

The county Department of Senior Services noticed many seniors were missing prescription medications. In response, the department began an educational program for seniors on how to keep their medicines safe in a locked cabinet and how to dispose of the ones no longer needed. In addition, the program provided information on the signs of drug abuse and what to do if drug abuse is suspected. By partnering with nonprofits, schools and faith-based agencies, the county provided a targeted educational outreach to address a new problem.

Staff in Sarasota County, Fla. created a program called “Safe Rx: Campaign for Responsible Prescriptions” in order to tackle the issue of extra pills from a different angle. Partnering with 16 agencies and organizations from Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties, the campaign focused on educating local health care professionals about prescribing medications responsibly. Educational events were held throughout the area to train more than 450 medical professionals about the risks of over-prescribing medications and safe disposal methods.

The program was developed due to the local area ranking eighth in the state for unintentional poisoning deaths, which was the leading cause of death for in those aged 15–34 in Sarasota County. As a result of attending these educational sessions, medical providers in Sarasota County voluntarily registered for the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program at the highest rate in the state.​