Chances are you already know too well about the problem of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drug addiction. And you may know, too, that it’s easy for legit drugs to fall into the wrong hands. Trouble is, it hasn’t been so easy to get rid of the unused pills in your medicine cabinet. You can’t just throw them in the trash, or flush them down the toilet. Thankfully, recent changes to the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act now make it a cinch to get rid of unused or expired drugs every day of the year, not just on periodic drug take-back days.
Most Americans use both prescription and OTC drugs as they’re intended. But in 2013, 6.5 million Americans were “nonmedical users” of prescription drugs like painkillers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives, according to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That means they were either abusing prescriptions (as a way to get high and/or taking meds that weren’t their own) or misusing the drugs (meaning they did not take the drug as prescribed, which can include giving the medication to someone else to treat an ailment), according to the Food & Drug Administration.
In response to both the prevalence of drug abuse and stolen pills, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently cleared the way to allow anyone to anonymously return their unused or expired pills (whether prescription or OTC) to participating pharmacies, hospitals and clinics, as well as police departments. All you have to do is place the pills or bottle in a special dropbox that’s securely bolted to the floor (or use another approved secure-collection method) at any time the facility is open. Best of all, there’s no more need to wait for National Prescription Take-Back Day to be held in your state; in fact, the DEA will no longer hold these events. “Now, with this final rule, every day could be a drug take-back day,” says Matt Barden, special agent for the DEA in Washington, DC.
The agency’s new regulations for disposing of unwanted or expired medications were published in the Federal Register in September 2014. The rules also allow for medications to be collected at community take-back events with local law enforcement; for example, CVS drugstores are partnering with police departments nationwide. Residents may also have the choice of using steel collection dropboxes or an authorized mail-back program such as one the U.S. Postal Service offers for veterans. To find a dropbox near you, go to MedReturn.com or DrugDropBox.org. You can also search for DEA-approved take-back locations using your Zip code.
Since the DEA started national drug take-back events in 2010, the agency has collected over 2,411 tons of prescription drugs – all accepted with no questions asked – throughout the U.S. and several territories. “This [new approach to taking back drugs] is only going to be as successful as the number of [hospitals, states’ sheriff’s offices, pharmacies] that are willing to comply,” Barden says.
If you’ve ever wondered what happens to your drugs once you drop them off, authorized agencies usually destroy them by incineration – a safer option than flushing medications or tossing them in the trash. Prescription drugs are a threat to the environment, contaminating ground and leaching chemicals into drinking water, which is dangerous for wildlife and humans alike.
It’s worth noting that drug take-back programs are designed especially for legal prescription and sometimes OTC drugs only. Most programs won’t allow syringes, illegal narcotic drugs (Schedule I controlled substances), mercury thermometers, iodine or inhalers, and some will only take meds in pill form (no liquids). It’s probably a good idea to remove your name, address and phone number from the bottle or other container and be aware that you can only legally return prescription drugs that belong to you or someone living in your household.
If there’s no drop-off location anywhere near you, try the Medsaway Medication Disposal System ($3.99; walgreens.com), which neutralizes medications, including narcotics; just add water to the drug and toss. For more information on disposing of unused medicines, the FDA offers these medication disposal guidelines.