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The Drug Enforcement Administration is hosting the ninth National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day Saturday, Sept 27 at over 5,200 sites across the United States.

The free event is meant to encourage individuals to bring their expired or unneeded prescriptions and such other medical supplies as patches to the sites , from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., according to local geographic zone times. Liquid medicines, needles and other hazards are excluded from pick-up.

DEA and medical officials say the drug take-back day and other such campaigns help in the overall fight against drug addiction and to protect the environment. If drugs are properly discarded from one’s home, they argue, children and youth will not have access to them.

The agency urges individuals seeking to rid themselves of remaining medicines and a collection site to visit their website at http://www.justice.gov/dea or call 800-882-9539.
The DEA touts the success of the take-back event. Since September 2010 when the agency first launched the campaign, patients nationwide have hauled in over 4.1 million pounds of drugs.

Officials deem the unused drugs as a public health and safety issue because they are accidentally swallowed, taken and misused. About 6.5 million patients misused the drugs in 2013, more than two times the number of those using heroin, cocaine and hallucinogens like LSD and Ecstasy.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011, reports that over 22,000 patients died from drug overdoses, including over 16,500 deaths from painkillers.

Proper Disposal of Unneeded Drugs

Individuals used to dispose of drugs in the toilet or drain. However, since local wastewater systems and septic tanks cannot screen out all hormones, antibiotics and other harmful substances in these medicines, they must get rid of them properly.

Federal agencies recommend the following precautions:

“Keep the unwanted medication in its original package. Use an indelible marker to cross out the name and prescription number on the label;

“Add water to a container of pills in order to dissolve them. Add sand, sawdust, or kitty litter to dilute liquid medication. Make sure the lid is tightly sealed. Wrap duct tape or packaging tape around the seal;

“Ask your local pharmacists whether they will accept unwanted medications for disposal. Many pharmacies now have a program for receiving and disposing safely of unwanted medications;

“Check with your health department to find out whether they or other local agencies have provisions for special collections of hazardous or unwanted medical materials;

“Use your own household trash disposal service if there is no provision for special hazardous waste collection at your pharmacy or in your locale. Place the taped package inside a larger container with a lid such as a coffee can. Then put the container with your trash. Most landfills now are designed to contain unwanted medications prepared in this way, and;

“Give special attention to the disposal of unwanted lancets or needles. Press the sharp end into an object that will hold them firmly in the trash. Most lancets are designed with a cap into which the sharp end can be pressed for disposal. Carefully press the sharp end of a needle into a small piece of carrot or other firm substance. Then seal it into a tightly-lidded can or jar and place it in the trash. Keep the disposal container itself covered tightly and locked away from pets and small children.”

FDA, White House ONDCP Guidelines

In particular, FDA and the White House’ss Office of National Drug Control Policy make the following recommendations:

“Follow any specific disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanies the medicine. Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so;

“Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service (see blue pages in phone book) to see if a take-back program is available in your community. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, working with state and local law enforcement agencies, periodically sponsors National Prescription Drug Take-Back days;

“If no disposal instructions are given on the prescription drug labeling and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash following these steps. 1. Remove them from their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter (this makes the drug less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through the trash seeking drugs). 2. Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag;

“Before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information;

“Do not give your medicine to friends. Doctors prescribe medicines based on a person’s specific symptoms and medical history. A medicine that works for you could be dangerous for someone else, and;

“When in doubt about proper disposal, talk to your pharmacist. … The same disposal methods for prescription drugs could apply to over-the-counter drugs as well.”

Inhaler Products

Another source of concern is the inhaler used by asthma sufferers and patients with other breathing problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Most inhalers contain have chlorofluorocarbons, also known as CFCs, propellants that harm the ozone. Still, CFCs have been removed from inhalers and are replaced with more environmentally-friendly inhalers.

FDA urges patients to read handling instructions on the labels of inhalers and aerosol products as they can be dangerous when punctured or thrown in a fire or incinerator. They are asked to contact laws their local trash and recycling facility for guidance on how to eliminate inhalers safely.

Household Trash

If individuals have no no medicine take-back program in their neighborhoods, they are asked to take the following steps to get rid of their household waste.

“Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds;

“Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag;
“Throw the container in your household trash, and;

“Before throwing out your empty pill bottle or other empty medicine packaging, remember to scratch out all information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.”

Recommended Medicines for Flushing

The FDA makes recommendations about the exact medicines that may be safely and securely disposed of in the sink or toilet without health risk to families, children, youth and pets.

Please consult its list on its webpage: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/EnsuringSafeUseofMedicine/SafeDisposalofMedicines/ucm186187.htm

Most medicines named have generic versions or only available in that form. The agency plans to update the list periodically.
Patients are asked to examine their local laws and city or county ordinances for guides on how to dispose of their house litter.

(NOTE: In honor of American Pharmacists Month, PharmPsych.com is offering up articles and advice columns on various subjects concerning the work of pharmacists, the field of pharmacy and those who support both. Vladimire Herard is chief communications officer for PharmPsych.com, our medical communications company and online community portal, and its sister websites, and freelancing contributing writer.)

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Last updated October 2014