Drug donation programs are available in most states as a way to dispose of unneeded medicines and redistribute the drugs to people who need them.

Many people open their medicine cabinets in the morning and see a wall of medications staring back at them. Regardless of whether these are over-the-counter medicines or prescriptions for various illnesses, many Americans have access to many types of medication.

Some of these medications will be actively used on a regular basis, but others haven’t been used in months — or ever. Rather than hold on to unwanted or unneeded medications, some people choose to donate medicine instead.

Article at a Glance:

  • Yes, there are drug donation programs available in 38 states.
  • Donated drugs must be deposited at certain locations and not be expired or opened.
  • The benefits of donating medications are helping people who cannot afford them and safely disposing of drugs to reduce the risk of substance abuse.
  • Some people find it inconvenient to deliver donation drugs to an approved location.
  • Medication donation programs could be more effective with increased government support, donation incentives, and public awareness.

Donating Prescription Medicine

Can unused prescription drugs be donated? The answer is yes! Although people may be unaware of the available programs, drug donating is allowed in 38 states, and there are laws in place to organize and regulate the process.

Of the states that have passed laws, more than half of them have established the actual programs that collect and redistribute the medications. Since these laws are all state-regulated, they differ by:

  • The types of drugs accepted
  • Who can donate drugs
  • Where the donations are collected
  • What happens to the drugs after collection

For example, states like Colorado and Florida only accept unused drugs prescribed for cancer treatments. Alternatively, states like Georgia and Iowa take all prescription and over-the-counter medications as long as they are in sealed packaging. Beyond drugs, many states ask for donations of medical devices as well.

Some general rules and guidelines are universal when it comes to medication donation programs, including:

  • Pills in opened or partially used packages are not accepted
  • Old drugs are not allowed, so expiration dates must be visible and more than six months from the donation date
  • Drugs must be deposited at specialized locations
  • Since this a donation, no financial compensation is permitted

What Are the Benefits of Donating Medicines?

People may be unaware of medicine donations programs or think there are few advantages to these programs. In reality, the benefits of donation programs are numerous and include:

  • Helping those who cannot afford medications due to high costs or limited insurance benefits
  • Offering a way to properly dispose of medications without the risk of contaminating local water supplies
  • Limiting the risk of substance abuse within one’s home

All of the benefits of donating medication are important to consider, but the final item on the list deserves extra attention. Prescription drugs are regularly abused by people who acquire them legally. Worse, family members may see the medications as a way to begin or continue their own drug habits.

By donating medicines, a person takes a big step toward helping others. In addition, they also protect themselves and those they care about from the dangers of substance abuse, which can quickly develop into addiction and dependence.

What Are the Drawbacks of Medication Donation?

Currently, the most significant drawback to medication donation is the inconvenience of having to collect the medicine, get into the car and deliver it to an approved location. Depending on the state and the person, this could be a minor issue or one significant enough to hinder the process.

Other than this, donating medication to those in need is a simple and low-risk situation.

What Can Be Done to Improve Medicine Donation?

Medication donating programs are doing well, but they could do more to help those in need. In the future, these programs could be more effective if they:

  • Offered donation incentives: By providing small financial or material rewards, programs could encourage more people to donate.
  • Received more government support: States have the power to create programs that are more effective and available by rolling out broader support and resources.
  • Increased public awareness: People may still be improperly disposing of their medications because they do not know about donation programs.

Despite the restrictions, donating medications is a fantastic way to clear out the medicine cabinet while helping others gain access to life-changing drugs.

Jonathan Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Eric Patterson
Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

Global Alliance for Patient Access. “The Role of Drug Donations in Expanding Access to Medicines.” August 2017. Accessed August 8, 2019.

National Conference of State Legislatures. “State Prescription Drug Return, Reuse and Recycling Laws.” October 1, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.