New Year’s Resolution: Dispose of Old and Unused Medicines

12/20/2017 11:47 am ET

As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities and families across America, the search for ways to address the scourge continues. Too frequently, the path to addiction starts with an old, half-used, or even unused prescriptions, found in the medicine cabinet of your home.

In fact, a recent survey on drug use and health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that more than 40 percent of non-medical prescription opioid users obtained their drugs from a friend or relative for free. Further, more than 13 percent of users said they either stole or bought the drugs from a friend or relative. Greatest concerns are unused opioids, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet.

One of the best ways to prevent these medications from ending up in the wrong hands is to provide effective options for discarding the unused opioids. Even if our immediate families aren’t likely to be abusing drugs, not enough thought is given to those who visit our homes – relatives, dinner party guests, your kids’ friends, home repair workers, domestic helpers – just to name a few. Prescription drugs can be a tempting opportunity for those prone to abuse and misuse. Raiding a medicine cabinet without the resident’s knowledge is as easy as an innocent visit to the bathroom.

Leftover prescription pain meds are commonplace. A JAMA Surgery report found more than two-thirds of patients who undergo surgery do not use all of their painkillers, and few safely stored or disposed of these medications.

Consumers play an important role in preventing this misuse and abuse of opioids. Taking small steps, like safely and properly disposing of unused prescription opioids, can make a significant difference. Throwing drugs into the toilet should be a last resort because the active ingredients in these drugs can find their way back into our water supply; nor is it ideal to toss them into the trash, where they can be fished out or end up in a landfill. There are better options highlighted below.

Make it your New Year’s resolution to clean out your medicine cabinet and properly dispose of any unused or expired prescriptions. Talk to your friends and family and encourage them to do the same. These are small steps, but if everyone took them, they’d make a real dent in stemming the opioid epidemic now gripping the US.

Options for drug disposal include the following:

  • DisposeMyMeds.org or the Drug Enforcement Administration Diversion Control Division’s online tool. There are numerous National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day events. You may also call the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539 to find an authorized collector in your community. It can also point you to fire and police departments, community hospitals, independent pharmacies, and other collection sites.
  • Walgreens offers free, anonymous, and secure kiosks in almost all states, and you can drop off any medication. To use one, remove your personal information from the bottle or packaging and drop your unwanted or expired medication, including controlled substances, in the slot. Walgreens also sells a product called RxDestroyer.
  • Costco, CVS, and Rite-Aid pharmacies sell postage-paid envelopes for customers to mail any prescription, including opioids, and over-the-counter medications to a disposal facility.
  • Deterra drug disposal bags make inert the active ingredients (we aren’t endorsing these products but offering options).

These safe disposal options, along with special take-back days sponsored by law enforcement agencies, help ensure safe disposal of unused medications. If you have other old prescriptions in your medicine cabinet, visit FDA’s webpage “Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know”for information on how to dispose of all unused medicines.

The opioid abuse crisis in America has hit epidemic proportions. The National Consumers League plans to reach out broadly to consumers and to other organizations in the coming months to raise awareness and educate consumers.

By cleaning out our bathroom cabinets and using the many options listed here for safe drug disposal, we can all help reduce the risk that old medications will fall into the wrong hands. Through our communications channels at NCL, we will be sharing more details and information about how you can get involved in this important effort.

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