The Importance of Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

The next National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is Oct. 19. Find out why it is important to get rid of unused drugs and how to dispose of them properly.

If we look into our medicine cabinets or nightstands, most of us are likely to find expired or unused drugs in pill bottles. Should you just keep them lying there or throw them out? When medications are no longer needed or expired, you should dispose of them, properly.

That’s the idea behind the twice-a-year National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, which falls this Saturday. On October 22, you can bring any unwanted or expired drugs to one of several thousand drop-off points – mostly local police departments, but some drugstore chains take part as well – for disposal. You can search for collection locations near you through this link.

The last Take-Back Day, on April 30, netted a total of 893,498 pounds – around 447 tons – of unwanted medicines, according to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), which sponsors the event.

As the DEA points out, leaving unused or unwanted medicines lying around increases the risk for accidental misuse or, even worse, deliberate misuse. The majority of prescription drug abusers have said that they get their drugs from friends and family, often by taking them right out of medicine cabinets. And about 80% of new heroin users began by abusing prescription opioid painkillers.

Taking an expired prescription is also a no-no since over time, a drug may lose its potency, limiting its therapeutic effects.

But if there are no collection sites near you or you can’t make it to a drop-off site, there are ways to safely dispose of medications on your own. If you want to dispose of drugs in the trash, you should mix them with used coffee grounds, dirt or even cat litter. Do not crush the pills. Then place the mixture in a plastic bag and throw it out with your regular trash. Just be sure to remove all personal information from prescription labels on the pill bottles.

If you want to get rid of medications right away, certain drugs – mostly opioid painkillers – can also be flushed down the toilet. The complete list is located here. However, to protect against the potential environmental impact of drug residues entering water supplies or lakes and rivers, you should only flush medicines on the list down the toilet.

Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block is MedShadow's content editor. He has previously worked for Psychiatry Advisor, Modern Healthcare, Health Reform Week and The Pink Sheet.

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