Don’t flush! Discard your prescription pills responsibly at Take-back Day

medicationsYou peek into your medicine cabinet and find expired pain pills and half a bottle of medication you don’t take anymore. So how do you get rid of prescription drugs that are expired or no longer used? These days, it might not be safe to just throw the bottles in the trash or flush your pills down the toilet.

You’re in luck. On Oct. 26, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is organizing National Prescription Take-back Day.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at designated locations across the state and nation, members of the public can turn in expired or unused drugs, no questions asked. It’s safe, convenient, responsible, and anonymous.

The event will be the seventh Take-Back Day since the initiative kicked off in 2010. A Take-Back Day held earlier this year collected 742,497 pounds of medications nationwide. Over the last three years, more than 2.8 million pounds of drugs have been collected and safely incinerated.

The DEA started these events to educate the public and cut down on prescription drug abuse. A 2011 government study found more than 70 percent of those who abuse prescription painkillers got them from friends or family, including by raiding medicine cabinets.

A few years ago, I took advantage of Take-Back Day myself. It was easy and quick. The locations that year included certain Longs Drugs stores. So on the day of the event, I walked into a nearby Longs store, handed my bag of pills to the friendly man at the Take-Back table, turned and walked out. I didn’t give my name and I didn’t have to fill out any forms.

Visit the DEA page to search for Take-back Day collection sites near you. Only solid prescriptions, such as tablets and capsules, are accepted.

So what if you can’t make it to one of the locations on Take-Back Day? You could wait until the next event (the DEA usually holds them twice a year), or safely and responsibly dispose of your medications yourself.

To properly dispose of prescription drugs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends following any disposal instructions on the label or patient information that comes with the medication. Because of environmental concerns, do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless the disposal information instructs you to do so.

If you can’t find disposal instructions, the FDA says prescription medications can be disposed in the trash. Before tossing them, though, take the drugs out of their container and mix them with an undesirable substance (like kitty litter or used coffee grounds).

Then, put that mixture in a sealed bag or container so the medication will not leak or break out of  the garbage bag.

The FDA also offers the following tips for consumers:

  • Protect your identity. Before you throw away the drug container from the pharmacy, scratch out your name and other identifying information on the label so it’s unreadable.
  • Don’t give your medication to anyone. Your doctor prescribed that medication for you, based on your symptoms and medical history. A drug that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.
  • When in doubt about disposing of your medication, talk to your pharmacist.

You can also check to see if your local pharmacy offers customers a way to safely dispose of expired or unused medications. Some pharmacies, for example, offer a special drug disposal envelope you can buy. You put your drugs in the envelope, seal, and mail. Your drugs are sent to an approved medication incineration site.

So whether you turn in your drugs on Take-back Day or choose another safe option, give yourself a pat on the back for doing the responsible thing. I know I will.

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