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Seven Steps for Safer Drug Disposal

By Florida Department of Health, Office of Communications

December 10, 2013

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 18 and younger in the United States are seen in emergency rooms for unintentional overdoses of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Medication overdoses are most common among two-year-olds—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 Florida Department of Environmental Protection advises that you follow these seven easy steps to ensure your medications are properly disposed of:

  1. Keep the medicines in the original container. This will help identify the contents if they are accidentally ingested.
  2. Mark out your name and prescription number for safety.
  3. For pills: add some water or soda to start dissolving them.

For liquids: add something inedible like cat litter, dirt or cayenne pepper.

  1. Close the lid and secure with duct or packing tape.
  2. Place the bottle(s) inside an opaque (non see-through) container like a coffee can or plastic laundry bottle.
  3. Tape that container closed.
  4. Hide the container in the trash.


  • 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. Instead, when possible, take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government to see if a take-back program is available in your area.

For a current list of drop-off disposal sites in Florida, please visit:

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. Don’t let your unused drugs pose a safety hazard.

For more information on the proper ways to dispose of your medications, please visit the following links:

Additional Resources

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