Can I Donate Unused Medications?


Q: My grandmother recently passed away and had unused, expensive medication. Can I donate it and if so, where?

A: Many people today are confronted with proper disposal of medications to create a safer environment for our seniors (avoiding possible medication-related problems or mix-ups). It also provides a safer situation with our youth who might live in the home, helping to minimize the opportunity for them to seek, find and take medications not intended for them. We are also concerned about pollution of our waterways and water tables.

Proper disposal of the medications can be found on the FDA website. (

Donation of unused medication can present some problems. If the donated medications are controlled substances, it would be considered an infraction of the law (felony) to transfer the medication to another person. (There is a notation on each prescription label advising against transfer to another person.)

Some charities collect medications to take overseas to help other countries in need but these are usually not mediations that have been opened. Usually they are donated, unusable medications; many are still in date and come from pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, etc.

There may be a local clinic or charity in your community who can better advise you of opportunities to redirect non-controlled medications so that they can be put to use. Please consider that purity and cleanliness of medications that have been opened cannot be assured. This is another reason that such medications may not be "recyclable" to a new user.

Lynn Harrelson is a pharmacist who specializes in medication and prescription management for seniors. She provides health care services and information that help individuals remain independent in their homes, retirement and assisted living facilities.

Senior Pharmacy Solutions

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I have been on blood thinners for four months. I was switched from a 5mg to 2mg pills while a was at a hospital. The bottle contained almost 100 5mg pills. I used but a few. Today I have been taken off blood thinners and now I have another bottle of about 50 2mg warfin pills. Furthermore, I have unused blood pressure medication, pain killers, and others that I did not even utilized. While researching about blood clots I found that many people lack the financial means to buy their medication. I was hoping to find a place to donate all those pills and found that laws are very strict about the donation of unused medication. For me, throwing the medication away makes me sad because I know that some people are going without their medications. Luckily I have insurance and the medication is already paid for so I do not see why some of this medication cannot be donated? I understand some of the concerns with donating the medication but why can medical facilities come up with methods in which the medication can be inspected and if deemed up to standards, give it to those that cannot afford it. I also wonder if the medical field knows that millions of medications are being thrown away because patients are switched, no longer used the medication, or die, why do they demand packaging that would allow unused pills to be donated to those that cannot afford them? afterall, these medication are already fully paid for. Big pharma needs to promote single pill packaging in order formedication not go to waste.
If you don't have anyone to donate them to in your area - please don't flush them or throw them out. In our area, our drinking water system is our "aquafer" (deep below the town) and medications flushed or thrown out seep into the drinking water table and end up running through the drinking water system. I have heard of research that has found traces of hormone replacement medications, etc in the drinking water system. The local police station in our region will take any unwanted medications and they are sent to a facility to be burned off - thus not ending up in our landfill or drinking water system.
If you have a CVS pharmacy in your community, many of them carry medication disposal 'envelopes' (prepaid), at the pharmacy counter, that you can buy, fill and mail to a secure facility (apparently with the exception of 'controlled' substances) for safe and environmentally sound disposal.