The following is a guest post from Ginger Skinner of Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs
Dropping off medicines at a local pharmacy or participating in a medication take-back event is a convenient way for patients to dispose of expired and unused medicines. As a community pharmacist, now is a great time to remind patients to do just that. This Saturday, April 26th, is the 8th National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, consumers clean out their medicine cabinets of leftover and expired medications can do so at over 4,000 sites across the U.S. This effort is operated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its thousands of state and local law enforcement partners, including many fire and police stations, hospitals, and churches. Since its start, the Take-Back Day initiative has collected over 3.4 million pounds of medication from the public.
The initiative also helps to rid homes of powerful prescription painkillers that are no longer needed, and reduces the chance of misuse or abuse by children, friends or family. In 2010, about 12 million Americans (age 12 or older) reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year. Deaths from opioids such as Vicodin (hydrocodone) and OxyContin (oxycodone) have reached epidemic levels in the past decade. About 45 people a day—over 16,600 people a year—overdose on these drugs. And for every death, over 30 others are admitted to the emergency room.
It’s just as important to safely dispose of other expired and unwanted prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. Commons OTCs such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can be dangerous, or even deadly, if accidentally ingested, and children and pets are particularly vulnerable. In 2012, there were 296,666 cases of improper medicine use reported to Poison Control Centers in the United States, and 8.3 percent of those involved accidental exposure to another person’s medicine, and 17 percent involved children 5 years and younger.
If Saturday is inconvenient for your patients, suggest another option: drop off at their local pharmacy. Online resource Dispose My Meds ensures the safe disposal of most prescription and over-the-counter drugs via independent pharmacies throughout the U.S. The program, however, does not accept opioids or other controlled substances; only law enforcement can collect those.
Started in 2010, Dispose My Meds was a solution many pharmacists had been searching for when faced with questions from patients about what to do with leftover medicines, says Carolyn C. Ha, Pharm.D., National Community Pharmacists Association’s Director of Professional Affairs and Long-Term Care. “Our pharmacists wanted to respond to the demands of their community.”
Ha points out that while Dispose My Meds is first a valuable consumer service, there are environmental benefits, too. “In the name of consumer safety, we’d like to eliminate potential risks for poisoning or misuse and abuse of medications, ” Ha says. “In terms of the environment, we want to preserve aquatic life…and also preserve drinking water safety.” While flushing may be safe for some drugs, because of the concern that trace amounts can end up in the water supply, it’s not advised for most medications. Refer patients to the Food and Drug Administration’s list of flushable meds, which includes a number of potent pain medications including Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen) Opana (oxymorphone hydrochloride), as well as the drug’s patient information sheet (either printed or online) for disposal specifics. In many cases, information sheets recommend patients speak to their pharmacist regarding proper disposal. “For the most part, the pharmacist is seen as the first line and last line of defense,” says Ha.
Ha recommends pharmacists reassure patients that the drop-off process is discreet—no ID required or paperwork to fill out—and advise removing all personal information from containers before turning them in to a participating Dispose My Meds pharmacy.
For more information on safe drug disposal and to locate participating pharmacies, visit Dispose My Meds. And for more on National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day and drop-off locations near you, visit the Drug Enforcement Administration’s website and click on “Got Drugs?”
— Ginger Skinner
Ginger is an associate editor for Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, a public education project dedicated to helping consumers find the most effective and safe drugs for the best price, and one of our partners.
- Americans Turn Out in Droves for DEA’s Seventh National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, Drug Enforcement Administration, November 2013
- Prescription Painkiller Overdoses in the U.S., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 2012
- Prescription painkillers: 5 surprising facts, Consumer Reports, January 2014
- 2012 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (PDF), December 2013
- Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know, Food and Drug Administration, November 2013