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Home >> Household Hazardous Waste >> Medicine Return Program

Medicine Return Program

Unwanted medicines stored in people’s homes can pose a risk to families, the community and the environment. To reduce the load of pharmaceuticals to the environment and the risks these medicines can pose to human health, the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County, or LHWMP, and group of local governments, non-profit organizations and businesses created a medicine return program for unwanted household medicines in Washington. Residents can dispose of unwanted medicines through the Medicine Return Program. See for a list of take-back locations.

The medicine take-back program has resulted in more than 50,000 pounds of unwanted medicines collected and safely disposed during the period October 2006 – September 2010.

More information is available about the following:
Unwanted Medicine Return Program partners
A Safer Way to Dispose of Unwanted Household Medicines
Strategies For Eeducing Unwanted Medicines
Secure Medicine Return in Washington: The PH:ARM Pilot Program

Quantities of Unwanted Medicine

The amount of medicine that remains unused has not been precisely quantified; studies estimate varying quantities. A 2006 telephone survey of King County residents found that 39% had more than ten medicine containers at home, and only a third were planning to use their medicines in the following six months. In an in-home survey done in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, interviewers found that 29% of medicine stored in the home were expired1. In contrast, a review of European studies found unused medicines returned to pharmacies (not including other methods of disposal) in various European cities represented five percent of the estimated sales value. Recent work in the United States found that more than half of patients surveyed stored unused and expired medicines in their homes and more than half had flushed them down the toilet in the past.2

A 2005 British study found that whether or not people finished their medicines depended on the type of medicine: 20% of respondents didn’t use all their pain medicines, 50% didn’t finish antidepressants or beta blockers, and 82% didn’t use all their antibiotics

1 Bush, P.J., Sanz, E.J., & Garcia, M. (1996). Section II: Cross-cultural reports. Medicines at Home: the contents of medicine cabinets in eight countries. In Bush (ed) Children, medicines, and culture. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press.

2 From Pharmaceuticals in the Environment: Sources, Fate, Effects and Risks, Kummerer, Klaus (editor). 2008. Third Edition.(Springer), referring to original research by Seehusen, DA and Edwards,J. 2006. Patient practices and beliefs concerning disposal of medications. J. Am Board Fam Med. 19: 542-547.