Donating Medications

We dispose of more than $5 billion worth of medications per year, but is there an alternative to throwing out medications? Sometimes it is possible to give them away. Before you do, it is important to know that the selling and distribution of medications are strictly regulated by State Boards of Pharmacy and other state and federal laws. These laws prohibit you from selling or giving away any prescription drugs.

You may be able to donate these medications to a group who will take unused medications and re-dispense them to needy patients.

  • Many states allow the donation of unused/unexpired over-the-counter medication, but few allow prescription drugs to be donated and not by individuals.
  • Even in states that have passed laws authorizing these programs, almost half of them do not have functioning or operational programs.

In addition, the rules are very restrictive about when medications can be donated. There are some non-profit organizations, like SIRUM and various state-specific programs, that will accept medications. However, the reality is that only a small fraction of medications can be given to other patients. Donation programs are rarely useful if you simply want to protect your local water supply or clean out your medicine cabinet.

After screening and approval, the medications will go to community clinics and charitable pharmacies for redispensing.

Common Rules for Most State Programs​

Medications are carefully monitored and regulated in the U.S. to assure purity and safety. The major concern with re-dispensing medication is lack of assurance that a medication that has been in somebody’s medicine cabinet is still safe and has not been tampered with or even replaced.

There are a limited number of ways to donate medication. Programs tend to only accept medications in their original packaging. Most states will also restrict the medications that can be donated.

  • No medication that could be beyond its expiration date by the time it is used will be accepted.
  • Because of the abuse potential, opioids and other controlled substances are not accepted.
  • Medications from individuals must be unopened and in sealed, tamper-evident packaging. For the most part, this limits individual donors to over-the-counter medications.
  • Hospitals and other inpatient facilities have strict rules about handling medication that allow them to donate prescription drugs.
    • Each person who handles any medication must inspect it and sign that they are responsible for the medication and the information is accurate.
    • This documented chain of custody assures that the medication has not been tampered with even though it is not in the original package.
    • These medications must also be checked by a pharmacist prior to being dispensed.
  • Prescription medications can also come from pharmacies, manufacturers, wholesalers, and other similar places.
  • Any medication that appears tainted or mislabeled medication will be refused.

Both donors and donation organizations are usually protected from liability, but some organizations may require the donor to sign a form or waiver.

Differences Across States​

Every state can make their own rules about donation and receipt of medications, so there is some state-to-state variation.

  • The type of drugs accepted include prescription medications and/or over-the-counter drugs. Some states only accept specific types of medications, such as cancer drugs.
  • Individual donors are not allowed in many states with programs.
  • There may also be restrictions on the recipients of donated medication and the patients they can be given to.
  • Although the goal is to prevent the use of expired medication, the minimum number of months between accepting the donation and expiration date varies.

Practical Guidelines if You Are Hoping to Donate Drugs:​

  • Individual patients are rarely allowed to donate medications directly, so check your state rules.
  • Pills in opened packages or unsealed bottles are never accepted. 
  • Expiration dates must be clearly visible on any container.
    • Expired drugs are never accepted.
    • Although it varies, most of the time the date must be at least six months later than the date of donation.
  • For the most part, medications must be donated to an approved organization.  
  • Financial compensation or payment to the donor is usually prohibited. However, donations may be tax-deductible if the medication was paid for by the individual who is the taxpayer. As always, you may need to provide a receipt.
  • If you want to donate medications, your local pharmacy or prescriber may know how to contact the appropriate organization. You can also check out SIRUM, a non-profit organization that will accept donated medications and provide information on other donation programs.