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Drug Stores Can Dispose of Your Old Medications

The federal government is taking aim at prescription drug abuse by making it easier for people to clean out their bathroom medicine cabinets.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has relaxed its rules regarding the disposal of old and unused opioid drugs. Consumers can now return narcotics they no longer need to participating neighborhood pharmacies. The hope is that by providing this option, fewer medications that were prescribed to treat pain will be used inappropriately, contributing to the flood of overdoses and deaths caused by their misuse and abuse.

Retail drug stores and hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities that have on-site pharmacies can choose to have a special collection receptacle for unwanted drugs, which the DEA will then arrange to have destroyed. Establishments able to destroy drugs on site will also be able to operate programs where consumers can mail drugs back for disposal.

Until this month, the only government-sanctioned option consumers had for getting rid of unwanted pills was to turn them over to law enforcement. The DEA encouraged this for the last five years by hosting National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days. These events – now discontinued – resulted in the collection of more than 4 million pounds of medication.

Many people, however, flush surplus and expired drugs down the toilet or toss them in the trash, which raises environmental concerns. Others simply leave them in their medicine cabinets. This accessibility contributes to misuse and dependence and also increases the likelihood of drugs falling into the wrong hands: adults for whom they were not prescribed, teenagers looking to get high and young children accidentally ingesting them. Every year, more than 9,000 children under age 6 are hospitalized for accidental ingestion of prescription drugs. Twenty-eight percent of these poisonings involve opioid pain relievers. This is despite the fact that most of these medications are dispensed in bottles with child-resistant caps.

Inappropriate use of opioids that were legitimately prescribed is responsible for more overdoses and deaths than any illicit narcotic bought off the street. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost twice as many Americans (6.8 million) abuse pharmaceutical controlled substances than those using cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin and inhalants combined. (It should be noted, there has been a recent increase in opioid addiction leading to heroin use and addiction.) Nearly 110 Americans die every day from drug-related overdoses, and about half of these overdoses are related to opioids. Seventy percent of people who misuse prescription pain relievers for the first time report obtaining the drugs from friends or relatives, including from the home medicine cabinet.

“Every day, I hear from another parent who has tragically lost a son or daughter to an opioid overdose. No words can lessen their pain,” said Michael Botticelli, Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy in announcing the new regulations. “But we can take decisive action…to prevent more lives from being cut short far too soon. We know that if we remove unused painkillers from the home, we can prevent misuse and dependence from ever taking hold. These regulations will create critical new avenues for addictive prescription drugs to leave the home and be disposed of in a safe, environmentally friendly way.”

To find an authorized prescription drug collector in your community, call the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539.

Consumers may also continue to follow the guidelines for the disposal of pharmaceutical controlled substances listed by the Food and Drug Administration on its website.

Help Is Available

Workplace substance abuse programs can help protect employers and employees from the consequences of alcohol abuse, illegal drugs and the misuse of prescription pain relievers and other medications.

The LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Division can help develop workplace substance abuse programs tailored to the unique needs and challenges of specific workplaces. For more information, call 202-628-5465.

Pamphlets, booklets and program materials about various aspects of substance abuse and drug-free workplace programs can be ordered through the LHSFNA’s Publications Catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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