Opportunity To Discard Drugs On October 23rd

This Saturday, October 23rd, will mark the DEA’s 20th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

The day, which happens twice a year (once in the spring and once again in the fall) will give Americans a chance to anonymously dispose of unwanted or expired prescription drugs safely and legally, with no questions asked. Drugs turned over will be destroyed. According to the Department of Justice, the occasion has successfully eliminated, “ever-higher amounts of [Opioids] and other medicines from the nation’s homes, where they are vulnerable to misuse, theft or abuse by family members and visitors, including children and teens.”

Thousands of law enforcement officials and collection sites will be available to Americans who want to get rid of medication. Many hundreds of thousands of pounds of drugs will likely be collected; this Saturday’s event may even set a record. Drugs can be dropped off at relevant sites from 10AM to 2PM local time, and nearby collection sites can be found on the DEA’s website.

Past “Take Backs” & Disposal Guidelines

America’s first National Prescription Drug Take Back Day was in 2010. Then-Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske highlighted the nature of the threat facing the country when he declared that, “Prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem, and take-back events like this one are an indispensable tool for reducing the threat that the diversion and abuse of these drugs pose to public health.”

In the more than a decade since, the initiative has certainly worked to get drugs out of medicine cabinets and potentially save thousands from overdose and addiction. Roughly 14.5 million pounds of prescription drugs have been collected since National Prescription Drug Take Back Day began. Weight-wise, that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,500 midsize cars.

While this year’s April event saw more than 5,000 collection sites operating around the country, some Americans may not be able to travel far enough to reach one in time (local drug disposal sites can be discovered by visiting the DEA website, using the internet to search for “drug disposal nearby,” or by calling 1-800-882-9539; callers will be connected to the DEA Diversion Control Division Registration Call Center).

For those who are out of range of the DEA’s collection sites, there is another option: the FDA has drawn up a “Flush List” that includes drugs which may be flushed down the toilet. According to the FDA, “flushing medicines on the flush list helps keep everyone in your home safe by making sure these powerful and potentially dangerous medicines…are not accidentally or intentionally ingested, touched, misused, or abused.”

Drugs on the FDA’s “Flush List” include Buprenorphine, Fentanyl, Methadone, Morphine, and Oxycodone. While some may be concerned about the environmental impact of flushing drugs down the drain, the FDA stands by their suggestion to do so; the agency claims that environmental impact is minimal and elaborates that any damage which could be done by disposing of the drugs in this manner is far less severe than the harm which might occur to a person who is exposed to the medication.

Other tips for disposing of medication at home (only in the event that one is out of range of an official disposal site) are to hide personal information before throwing away bottles, to mix pills with liquids, and to enclose drugs in a sealed container like the kind coffee grounds come in before wrapping up the package with tape.

The Extent Of Prescription Drug Abuse

Just how common is it for Americans to leave dangerous medications in their medicine cabinets — and what harms are done by these drugs lying around the house?

Two-thirds of all American adults use prescription drugs. More than 80% of prescription drugs dispensed by pharmacies are Opioids. That means there are likely millions of American medicine cabinets that house unnecessary, out-of-date, addictive, or even deadly drugs.

The impacts of this are quantifiable: The FDA has reported that “Each year…approximately 60,000 emergency department (ED) visits and 450,000 calls to poison centers are made after children under 6 years of age find and ingest medication without caregiver oversight.”

Of course, many medication thieves are substantially older; just last month, The New York Times reported on “drug diversion,” which it defined as when an individual “steals or tampers with prescription medications, particularly [Opioids], for personal use or for sale.”

Drug diversion has been on the rise in some states; Minnesota saw a drastic increase in recorded cases within care facilities between 2016 and 2018 — they skyrocketed from 9 to 116. The Times shared that “thieves forged signatures, altered documents and diluted medications in syringes.”

When caretakers make house calls, expired or excessive medications left in the bathroom cabinet can become the target of a drug diverter.

To protect children from overdosing, prevent drug diversion from occurring, and ensure that toxic chemicals are handled safely and professionally, participating in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day may be the best option. It’s been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — ironically, this may especially apply to the “cures” just waiting to cause harm right above the bathroom sink.

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William Henken

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  • Will Henken earned a B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida. He has had his work published in the Orlando Sentinel, and has previous experience crafting copy for political action committees and advocacy groups dedicated to social justice. Addiction and mental health are personal subjects for him, and his greatest hope is that he can give a helping hand to those seeking healthy and lasting recovery.

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