Safe Disposal of Expired & Unwanted Pharmaceutical Waste for Safer Homes
Don’t Let Your Medications Get Into the Wrong Hands or the Wrong Place!
Disposing of your unwanted or expired medicines at a participating SafeMeds Drop-Off location will prevent drug abuse, overdose, and environmental damage. Your household medications will be safely disposed of to make your home safer.
SafeMeds is a joint effort between local pharmacies, law enforcement, wastewater treatment facilities, and Kent County to provide residents with safe, convenient access to proper medicine disposal.
What NOT to Do
Flush Down the Toilet
Pour Down the Drain
Throw in Garbage
A list of accepted pharmaceuticals for disposal for each type of SafeMeds Drop-Off location is available in the FAQ section below.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why should I properly dispose of my medications? Can't I just throw them away or flush them?
Improper disposal of pharmaceuticals and medication can to lead to a variety of severe problems for our community members and the environment surrounding us. These problems include but are not limited to prescription drug abuse/addiction, overdose, death, contamination of our waterways, additional clean-up and processing costs for municipalities, and overall poor human and environmental health. Only by disposing of these medications properly, can we keep our friends, family, community, and environment safe.
Below are some staggering statistics that illustrate the effects of improper pharmaceutical disposal:
- As of 2014 it was estimated that as many as 3 billion prescriptions are being written annually in the United States, with the number of people using prescription medication rising steadily each year.
- 20-60% of prescription medications go unused and are eventually disposed.
- Nearly all unused pharmaceuticals enter either our solid waste system or our sewage system, and neither disposal method is environmentally sound. Pharmaceuticals flushed down the toilet pass through our sewage treatment plants, which are generally not designed to screen for these chemicals. Pharmaceuticals discarded in landfills can seep into the surrounding water table.
- Not all drugs end up being used by patients—prescribed medications are often wasted. Reasons for pharmaceutical waste include:
- Ineffective medication or adverse side-effects
- Expired before the supply was used up
- Unused medications from a non-compliant, deceased, or discharged patients
- Hospitals and long-term care facilities dispose of at least 125 million pounds of pharmaceuticals each year however pharmaceutical waste in communities throughout the U.S. is unknown since data is rarely kept or tracked.
- During 1999 and 2000, samples from 139 streams in 30 states were tested for the presence of 95 chemicals by the U.S. Geological Survey, and as reported by the Watershed Council, “82 of the 95 chemicals were detected at least once.” The study also showed that 80% of the waterways tested had traces of a variety of pharmaceuticals, including acetaminophen, hormones, hypertension drugs, codeine, and antibiotics.
- A 2008 investigation by the Associated Press found that a wide array of pharmaceuticals have been detected in the drinking water of at least 41 million Americans.
- Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the most commonly abused substances after marijuana and alcohol.
- More Americans died from drug overdoses in 2014 than any year before, according to the latest research from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- The amount of prescription opioids sold in the United States has nearly quadrupled since 1999, according to the CDC. The amount of pain Americans reported from 1999 to 2014 remained stable, yet the number of deaths from prescription opioids increased nearly fourfold during this time.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 21, 2016. Understanding the Epidemic.
 Dyer, Tyler & Ashraf, Ali. May 2018. Addiction to Prescription Drugs.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. June 2015. DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. November 2015. DrugFacts: Prescription and Over-the-Counter-Medications.
 Nelson, Roxanne. June 2015. The Excessive Waste of Prescription Drugs. American Journal of Nursing. Vol. 115. Issue 6: p 19-20.
 Volkow, N. November 2014. Prescription Drug Abuse.
 Whitehouse.gov. 2014. National Drug Control Strategy.
What type of pharmaceutical waste is accepted through SafeMeds collection sites?
What Type of Meds?
SafeMeds Pharmacies collects only non-controlled prescriptions and medications
SafeMeds Law Enforcement agencies collect both controlled and non-controlled prescriptions and medications
What is the difference between controlled and non-controlled substances?
Include prescribed medications that can cause physical and mental dependence and therefore have restrictions on how they can filled and refilled. Controlled substances should be dropped off at SafeMeds law enforcement collection sites.
Examples of Controlled Substances
- ADHD medications (Adderall or Ritalin)
- Opioid pain medications (like Vicodin, Dilaudid, OxyContin, or Percocet)
- Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants (like Benzodiazepine medications—Xanax or Klonopin, sleep medications—Ambien or Lunesta, and Barbituates—Luminal or Nembutal)
- Suboxone (Naloxone)
Include all over-the-counter medications and some prescribed medications with reduced restrictions on how they can be filled or refilled. These are accepted at any SafeMeds collection site (both law enforcement and participating pharmacies).
Examples of Non-Controlled Substances
- Some prescription medications, such as blood pressure and cholesterol medications or diabetes medications (including insulin).
- Over-the-counter medications
- Cold and flu medications
- Pet/Veterinary medications
- Medication samples
- Medicated ointments/lotions
What type of pharmaceutical waste CANNOT be brought to a SafeMeds collection site?
- Medical Sharps—needles, lancets, syringes, epipens
- IV Bags
- Hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, or other flammable non-medical items
- Inhalers/Aerosol Cans
- Electronic devices—diabetes blood sugar level meters and testers, etc.
- Empty containers and pill bottles
- Business Waste—schools, medical offices, group homes, and other health care facilities
- Chemotherapy medications
How do I prepare the medication for drop-off?
If You’re Dropping Off at a pharmacy:
- Bring non-controlled medications only in their original container.
- DO NOT remove the name of the medication—pharmacy staff must be able to see the medication type so they can properly sort it.
- Block out ALL identifying personal information (name, address, phone number, etc.) on the prescription label.
- Arrive at the pharmacy counter to drop-off
If You’re Dropping Off at a law enforcement agency:
- Bring all (controlled and non-controlled) medications in their original container.
- Depending on the location, you may be asked to consolidate your medications once you arrive to save space in the collection receptacle.
- Deposit your pharmaceutical waste in the SafeMeds kiosk drawer to drop-off
How do I properly dispose of medical waste not accepted through the SafeMeds Program?
Empty bags go in the trash – they are NOT recyclable. If the bag contains a fluid, return the bag to the home care provider, pharmacy or other medical provider. They can dispose of the waste safely and properly. It is not recommended that chemotherapy agents be disposed in the trash or poured down the drain.
Contact the dispensing physician and pharmacy to address proper disposal of chemotherapy medications. These medications are highly toxic and designated as dangerous waste. This classification requires the medications to be handled and incinerated differently.
This would include items such as wheelchairs, walkers, shower chairs, canes, raised toilet seats, etc. Disposal and reuse/donation outlets can be found on our Medical Equipment & Supplies disposal guide.
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Rules for Business Waste: Mixed Medical Waste Guidance.
SafeMeds Partner Resources
Since 2010, thousands of pounds of medications have been brought back to participating pharmacies and law enforcement offices.
Properly disposing of medication is an important step in preventing abuse or misuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications. In addition, destroying these products at Kent County’s Waste to Energy facility reduces dangers to the environment that arise when they are flushed down the drain or disposed of in landfills.
Preserving the health and safety of the residents and environment in West Michigan is more important than ever and the positive impact that we’ve achieved together has inspired surrounding communities to model medication disposal programs after the SafeMeds program.
Thank you again for your partnership that is helping to keep our community safe!
SafeMeds has many partners:
Kent County Department of Public Works
As administrator of the program, Kent County staff focus on outreach materials, services to stakeholders, and community action.
City of Wyoming Clean Water Plant
City of Wyoming staff developed the program in its infancy. Originating as Wy-Meds, the clean water plant personnel pushed for a larger and more developed program. They continue to be a major stakeholder in the program as field staff and in leadership.
City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services
With us from the beginning, the City of Grand Rapids serves as the primary contact for all pharmacies within the city limits and provides the field staff and resources for medication collection.
Kent County Waste to Energy Facility
Making the program possible is our final destruction site. This facility, permitted by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, is authorized to accept medications for destruction.
Pharmacies voluntarily participate in the SafeMeds medication collection program because they want to ensure that their customers have safe disposal options for medications they don’t need anymore. They offer convenience through weekend and evening hours. By having direct contact with residents, pharmacies provide an easy disposal solution for many residents who just have non-controlled substances.
Participating law enforcement offices provide a one-stop-shop for disposal of medications, both controlled substances and non-controlled. Preventing medications from getting into the wrong hands is a priority for them.
Allegan County Sheriff’s Department
Otsego Police Department
Plainwell Public Safety
Saugatuck/ Douglas Police Department
Wayland Police Department
Barry County Sheriff’s Department
Hastings Police Department
Middleville Police Department
Berrien County Sheriff’s Department
New Buffalo Police Department
Niles Law Enforcement Complex
Cedar Springs Police Department
East Grand Rapids Police Department
Grand Rapids Police Department
Grandville Police Department
Kent County Sheriff’s Department
Kentwood Police Department
Lowell Police Department
Rockford Police Department
Sparta Police Department
Wyoming Police Department
Fruitport Police Department
Montague Police Department
Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department
Muskegon Heights Police Department
Muskegon Police Department
Muskegon Twp. Police Department
North Muskegon Police Department
Norton Shores Police Department
Roosevelt Park Police Department
Whitehall Police Department
Grand Haven Public Safety
Holland Police Department
Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department – Spring Lake
Pharmaceutical Website Links
Pharmaceuticals in the Environment
- Environmental Protection Agency Information
- Alliance for the Great Lakes
- Pharmaceuticals & Personal Care Product
- Environmental Health Perspectives: Drugs in the Environment
- The Truth About Unwanted Medication – Video
- Waste Water Treatment information
Pharmaceutical Abuse & Prevention
- Addictions & Recovery – Help Guide
- National Council On Patient Information and Education
- National Drug Policy and Prevention
- Drug Abuse Information DARE
- Prescription and Over-The-Counter Drug Abuse
- National Institute on Drug Abuse
- DEA Demand Reduction
- Partnership for a Drug Free America – Drugs by Name
- Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America
Local Law Enforcement Agencies with drop-off boxes
meds collected...and counting!
SafeMeds Drop-off Locations
SafeMeds Program includes many local pharmacies and law enforcement agencies accepting your unwanted medications.