Safe Drug Disposal Curbs Drug Abuse

Get Rid of Prescription Drugs Safely at National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

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Sept. 27, 2012 -- If you have prescription drugs that are past their expiration date or that you no longer use, you can get rid of them safely this Saturday at a national prescription drug "take-back" event.

It's important to dispose of expired drugs or medications you no longer use. They pose a serious health risk to children and pets and may be abused if not disposed of properly.

Many medicines can be thrown in the trash after taking a few safety precautions, but some prescription drugs should be flushed down the toilet.

To make safe drug disposal easier, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is sponsoring a national prescription drug take-back day on Saturday, Sept. 29 at more than 5,600 sites in all 50 dates and U.S. territories.

“While a uniform system for prescription drug disposal is being finalized, we will continue to sponsor these important take-back events as a service to our communities,” DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart says in a news release.

People turned in more than 552,161 pounds of unwanted or expired medications at the most recent drug take-back event, held in April.

To Flush or Not to Flush

Some drugs, such as narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances, may come with instructions for flushing to help prevent accidental overdose or abuse.

For example, the fentanyl patch, which delivers a potent pain reliever, comes with instructions to flush used and leftover patches. Too much fentanyl can cause severe breathing problems and even death in babies, children, pets and some adults who have not been prescribed the drug.

"Even after a patch is used, a lot of the drug remains in the patch," Capt. Jim Hunter, MPH, of the FDA’s controlled substance staff, states on the FDA's web site. "You wouldn't want to throw something in the trash that contains a powerful and potentially dangerous narcotic that could harm others."

There are also environmental concerns about flushing drugs. Some people question flushing prescription drugs due to concerns about trace levels of the drugs entering rivers, lakes, and community water supplies.

The FDA says the main way drug residues enter water systems is by people taking drugs and then passing them through their bodies.

Nevertheless, the FDA continually reviews drug labels with directions for flushing or disposal down the sink. The FDA has a list of drugs recommended for disposal by flushing.


How to Dispose of Drugs Safely

The FDA, working with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, has developed the following guidelines for drug disposal.

  • Follow any specific disposal directions on the drug label or patient information that comes with the drug. Do not flush prescription drugs unless this information specifically tells you to do so.
  • Take advantage of community or national drug take-back programs. Call your local city or county’s household trash and recycling service to see if a program is available.
  • If no instructions are given on the drug label and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in your household's trash.

Before tossing prescription drugs out in the trash, the FDA also recommends doing this:

  • Take medicines out of their original containers and mix them with used coffee grounds or kitty litter. This makes the drugs less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
  • Put drugs in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
  • Before throwing out an empty prescription drug container, scratch out all identifying information. This will help protect your identity and keep your health information private.

When in doubt about proper prescription drug disposal, talk to your pharmacist.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 27, 2012



News release, Drug Enforcement Administration.

FDA: "How to Dispose of Unused Medicines."

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