Proper Disposal of Unused/Unwanted Medications - VA Palo Alto Health Care System
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VA Palo Alto Health Care System


Proper Disposal of Unused/Unwanted Medications

Person putting used sharps into a sharps container

Improper disposal of used sharps puts others at risk of painful stick injury and potential exposure to other harmful diseases.

By Laura Smith, PharmD, VAPAHCS
Thursday, February 1, 2018

Do you have old medications lying around the house? Do you have a medical condition that requires the use of “sharps” such as needles, syringes, or lancets? This article will help you find a safe and convenient way to help clean out your medicine cabinet.

Why is proper disposal of medications important? Improper disposal of prescription and over-the-counter medicines can cause environmental harm if the medicines are consumed by wildlife, or enter the water supply. There is also a risk of illegal sale or accidental ingestion of inappropriately disposed medicines by other people.

Here are a few ways you can get rid of those old medicines safely:

  • Mail unwanted/unused medications in a TakeAway envelope you can get from one of the VAPAHCS Pharmacy locations. Ask your pharmacist for more information.
  • Visit CalRecycle’s Facility Information Toolbox (FacIT) website for information on California disposal and recycling facilities.
  • Visit the Drug Enforcement Administration’s website to find an authorized collector in your community, or call 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332).
  • If there are no collection programs/facilities near you, follow these steps for disposal of medications in your household trash:
    • Scratch out your personal information
    • Mix with an unappealing substance
    • Place in a sealed container (such as a zip-lock bag)
    • Throw in household trash

    Why are used sharps dangerous? Improper disposal of used sharps puts others at risk of painful stick injury and potential exposure to diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS. Here are some options for safe disposal:

    • Ask your provider or pharmacist for a sharps container; fill container only ¾ full and close before disposing of it.
    • VA Palo Alto Health Care System DOES NOT accept used sharps but there are many disposal resources available.
    • Call your county Household Hazardous Waste program to find a facility.

      Santa Clara County: 408-299-7300
      San Mateo County: 650-655-6217
      Alameda County: 877-786-7927
      Toulumne County: 209-533-5588
      San Joaquin County: 209-468-3066
      Santa Cruz County: 831-768-3133
      Monterey County: 831-755-4500
    • Call the Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal (800) 643-1643 or visit for more information on safe sharps disposal in your area.

    It is our goal at VAPAHCS to provide safe, high-quality health care while you are with us. It is also our goal to help you stay safe while you are at home or out in the community. This means providing you with resources for proper disposal of old medications and used sharps that could be a danger to the environment, other adults, children, and even pets. We can all do our part to avoid this very preventable health risk!


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