During the last week in October, while children were collecting Halloween Trick-or-Treat candy, law enforcement officials in cities and towns across America collected a more dangerous substance.
October 29 was the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Third National Prescription Drug Take-Back Event. Across the nation, more than 188.5 tons (377,086 pounds) of expired, unused and unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medications were turned in at more than 5,300 official Take-Back sites. The event was scheduled to coincide with National Red Ribbon Week, the DEA’s national drug prevention program.
Almost 4,000 state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies in all 50 states participated in the Take-Back event, collecting and safely disposing of prescription drugs in communities throughout the U.S. The first DEA Take-Back was held in September 2010 and a second took place in April of this year. When the results of all three Take-Back events are combined, a total of almost 1 million pounds (498.5 tons) of pills have been taken out of circulation.
More than 7 million Americans currently abuse prescription drugs with the non-medical use of prescription drugs exceeding all other types of drug abuse except marijuana. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unused prescription drugs that are stored in homes are highly susceptible to being diverted and abused. Government studies have found that the majority of teenagers who misuse prescription drugs obtain them from people they know, often stealing them from the medicine cabinets of family and friends.
Instructions to Dispose of Prescription Drugs
Many Americans assume that it’s safe to flush unused prescription pills or wash them down the sink, but both of these disposal methods can be hazardous to the environment or contaminate the water supply. For people who don’t have access to a drug Take-Back event, prescription drugs can be disposed of by following these guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
• Without crushing tablets or capsules, mix medication with an inedible substance such as coffee grounds or kitty litter.
• Place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag or other container.
• Place bag or container in household trash.
Consumers are advised to check local laws before disposing of prescription drugs in the trash. Some medications come with specific instructions for disposal. When this is the case, the instructions should be followed when the medication has expired or is no longer needed.
The success of the DEA’s Take-Back events indicates a need for a permanent disposal process for unused medication since there is always a risk that medication disposed of in household trash will be found and abused. Shortly after the first Take-Back Event in 2010, Congress passed legislation to support a permanent process and it is currently under development by the DEA.