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Medication Disposal

Medication disposal

Medicines play an important role in treating many conditions and disease. However, they are often changed, discontinued or stopped for a variety of reasons. Many Canadian homes’ medicine cabinets and drawers are filled with either expired drugs or unused medications. Inappropriate disposal of unused medications increases the risk of adverse drug reactions, illicit or dangerous use, and potential environmental contamination.

Prescription Drug Misuse

Prescriptions drugs are becoming one of the fastest growing party drugs for teens in Canadian communities. In one Canadian community, 24% of youth reported misusing prescription drugs at least once in one year with over 90% of the prescriptions coming from the family medicine cabinet. Globally, Canada has one of the highest per capita use for pharmaceutical opioids. This increases the risk of potential unused opioids landing in the wrong hands and for the wrong reason. In fact, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in 2009, 20% of students in grades 7‐12 reported using at least one prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription.

Where to Dispose of Medications

Most community pharmacies participate in the Health Product Stewardship Association Program (HPSA). The HPSA is funded by health products industries and works with participating pharmacies to collect all Prescription drugs, oral over-the-counter medications and natural health products before they are disposed of in the garbage or poured down sewers and drains. You can find a participating pharmacy at www.healthsteward.ca. Contact your pharmacy for more information and for additional assistance with other dosage forms.

In some communities, municipals governments have enacted programs that help residents with their drug and medical device disposal needs. Contact your local municipality to learn more about options at your community.

Sharps and Syringes Disposal

Residents of Ontario and PEI can return theirs sharps and syringes to their local HPSA participating pharmacy. The pharmacy will provide a free container that can be filled with sharps and needles and will accept these approved containers once filled by the patient.

It is very important that sharps, syringes, or hypodermic needles are not placed in garbage or a recycling bin. They should also never be flushed down the toilet or sink.

Some municipalities may suspend garbage pickup if needles/sharps are found in garbage or recycling. Contact your municipality or your public health unity to understand your disposal options. Your pharmacy can also be a great resource to assist in finding an option that meets your needs.



  1. Medication Disposal- Alberta Pharmacists Association.www.rxa.ca; 2016
  2. Medication Return Program- Health Products Stewardship Association.www.healthsteward.ca; 2016.
  3. How to Dispense of Unused Medicines- Food and Drug Administration.www.fda.gov; 2016
  4. Prescription Drug Return Initiatives in Canada- Public Safety Canada.www.PublicSafety.gc.ca; 2016


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This article was provided by the clinical pharmacy at Rx Infinity. Rx Infinity provides optimal and sustainable patient management solutions through customized programs, innovative technology and added value services that improve the overall patient experience; while helping payers and plan sponsors achieve sustainability in the management of drug plans expenditures.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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