Written by SMH Emergency Medicine Clinical Pharmacist Nick Scaturo
Each April and October, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency hosts nationwide Prescription Drug Take Back Days in an effort to give individuals a secure, convenient and responsible way to dispose of unused medications.
These events aim to eliminate unused, unwanted and expired prescriptions that pose a serious public health threat. In the wrong hands, these medications can lead to accidental poisonings, misuse or overdose, with dangerous and tragic outcomes.
Why You Should Be Concerned
Expired or unused drugs stored in your cabinets can put you and your family, friends or neighbors at risk.
Among the most concerning medications that often collect in the back of medicine cabinets are prescription pain medications, namely opiates. These include hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin), oxycodone (Percocet, Roxicodone) and codeine. When misused or accidentally ingested — by a curious child or experimenting teen, for instance — opiates can slow or stop a person’s breathing. They can be particularly harmful to children, even in a single dose.
In 2015, more than 20,000 Americans died after overdosing on prescription pain medication and 2 million (aged 12 and older) had a substance abuse disorder involving prescription pain relievers. U.S. government reports suggest that more than half of those who misused prescription meds obtained them from family members or friends.
Prescription opiate abuse often leads to heroin or fentanyl addiction. Having unused stores of these medications hanging around your home can also make your house a target for theft or criminal activity.
Here in Sarasota and Manatee counties, the opioid epidemic continues. Both counties have seen significant numbers of deaths related to opioid overdoses in recent years. Restricting opioid access, increasing community involvement and improving prevention, treatment and recovery services are all keys to combating the opioid crisis—and it starts at home, in every home.
Safely disposing of unused prescription drugs in your home ensures that they won’t be misplaced, stolen or misused.
Visit takebackday.dea.gov to find out the date of the next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.
Alternative Disposal Techniques
If you can’t make it to a prescription drop-off site during a Take Back Day, there are alternative ways to safely dispose of old medications. Here are two ways to dispose of medications at home:
1. Flush drugs down the toilet, if FDA-recommended for flushing
Some medications pose a high risk to others and have specific directions to immediately flush them down the toilet when they are no longer needed. This information is usually available on the medication label or drug information handout.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has posted a list of medications that it has found can be safely flushed without potential environmental effects or problems with drinking water exposure. (Note: The U.S Environmental Protection Agency has not found any undesirable effects caused by flushing drugs the FDA recommended for flushing.)
2. Place them in household trash, only if you follow these recommended safe-disposal steps:
- Remove any drugs from their original packaging and mix them with coffee grounds, dirt or kitty litter to make them less desirable to children or pets.
- Put this mixture into a closed container (coffee can, detergent bottler, etc.) to prevent any medication from spilling out.
- Place the container in the regular trash.
- Remove any personal information from original pill bottles and place them in the recycling.
Most medications can be disposed of this way, but if you have questions about a specific one, consult your pharmacist or healthcare provider.
For more information on Prescription Drug Take Back Days, visit takebackday.dea.gov.
SMH Clinical Pharmacist Nick Scaturo, PharmD, is a licensed pharmacist with specialty training in Emergency Medicine. In addition to providing comprehensive pharmaceutical care services for Sarasota Memorial patients, Nick lectures at local pharmacy schools and has contributed scholarly works focused on Emergency Medicine and Toxicology.