After your usual visit to the doctor, your physician prescribes your medication. You take the recommended dose, but there are still some pills left over in the container. So what do you do with the medications that are left unused?  Most of us might just hide the container in a drawer somewhere while it collects dust-after all, we have no more use for them. But what you might not know is this poses a serious risk for children around the house, who could find them and accidentally ingest dangerous substances.

According to the office of national drug control policy, every year more than 71,000 children aged eighteen and younger in the United States are seen in emergency room for unintentional overdoses of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Medication overdoses are most common among two-year-old’s – about one out of every 180 visits an emergency department for a medication overdose each year.

Many of us might think the safer alternative is to flush the medications down the toilet or drain-seems quick and easy right? The truth is the chemicals found in these medications can pose a threat to our aquatic environment because our water treatment systems are not designed to remove the compounds found in these medicines. It’s also possible these might leak into our own surface or ground water.

Thankfully, there is a safe and more effective way to dispose of our unwanted medications that also prevents accidental ingestion. The Department of Florida Environmental Protection advises that you follow these seven easy steps to ensure your medications are properly disposed of:

  • Keep the medicines in the original container. This will help identify the contents if they are accidentally ingested.
  • Mark out your name and prescription number for safety.
  • For pills: add some water or soda to start dissolving them.
  • For liquids: add something inedible like cat litter, dirt, or cayenne pepper. Close the lid and secure with duct or packing tape.
  • Place the bottle{s} inside an opaque (non-see-through) container like a coffee can or plastic laundry bottle.
  • Tape that container closed.
  • Hide the container in the trash.

Do Not:

  • Give drugs to anyone else.
  • Flush drugs down the toilet.
  • Put drugs in the trash without disguising them-human or animal scavengers may find them and misuse them.
  • Put container in the recycle bin.

Remember, it is illegal for your doctor, pharmacy, or hospital to take back drugs that have already been prescribed. By following these easy steps to properly dispose of your prescription medications, you can ensure the safety of children in your household, as well as your community. Do not let your unused drugs pose a safety hazard.

Where and How To Dispose of Unused Medicines

Sheila Birnbaum’s professional career has been devoted to enhancing patient care. As the Director of the Patient Advocacy Program at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH), Hamilton, NJ, she instituted numerous programs, many which received statewide recognition, including several prestigious rewards.