Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.
The last Saturday in April is National Drug Take-Back Day. Seems like there's a National Day for just about every activity, doesn't it? But honestly, this one's really important, and every person who takes any kind of medicine should pay attention. Drug disposal should be taken seriously -- it's all about keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe from harm. Let's talk about why it's so important.
Prevention of abuse and addiction
Drug take-back day on April 27th is sponsored by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). The DEA is in charge of enforcing laws concerning drugs of abuse (controlled substances). We've learned over the years that certain medicines pose the risk of abuse and addiction, sometimes even when they're prescribed for good reason to people without any history of drug problems. Many factors help to explain why one person can take a medication without a problem while another slowly spirals into abuse and addiction. But one thing is for sure -- problems occasionally start when a person takes a potent medication that was prescribed for someone else.
One way to prevent that from happening is to make sure we dispose of all unneeded medicine. That rids the medicine cabinet of dangerous medicines that others could come across; it keeps those who might want to experiment with someone else's medicine from trying it, and removes the temptation to offer one's prescription medicine to a friend or family member who seems to be having a symptom that medicine could treat.
If you've tried to take unneeded drugs back for disposal you may have found that there are some locations that don't take controlled substances. But National Drug Take-Back Day is centered around making sure that controlled substances CAN BE taken back and disposed of safely. I'll provide links to take-back sites later in this article.
Prevention of medication errors
People are often reluctant to get rid of medicine they're no longer taking. There are lots of reasons -- the medicine may have been expensive and it seems wasteful to just throw it away. What if the doctor wants to restart it in the future? Or the symptom returns and you'd prefer to self-treat rather than going to see the doctor? (Which I would suggest is never a good idea unless you and your doctor have already talked about self-treatment!) Whatever the reason, a common result is that there's a kitchen drawer or bathroom shelf with a number of old medicines. A dose may get changed so there two different strengths of the same medicine. There may be several medicines to treat the same condition, and choosing between them without a doctor or pharmacist's advice may be tough. Old medicine that's been stored may expire and become ineffective. But worse, sometimes those old medicines get mixed up with current ones. And the more medicines a person takes, the more likely things are to become complex and confusing. Bottom line, timely disposal of unneeded medicine decreases the risk of medication errors that can be dangerous.
Protecting the environment
One of the great things about drug take-back programs is that the medicines are incinerated. Remember the days when we were told to flush old medicine down the toilet? Apparently no one was thinking about how that might affect the water supply. Or putting them in a landfill? We don't really know what happens when those chemicals degrade and leach into soil and groundwater. Incineration inactivates medications and keeps them from having a dangerous effect on our environment. Medicine dropped off at a take-back site will be kept in a safe place until it's taken to a facility for destruction.
So how do you know where to take your unneeded meds on April 27th?
The National Drug Take-Back Day website has a collection site locator that will find a take-back site by zip code. It's possible that your own state's website will have more thorough information, though, so you can also search the web for "drug take-back sites (your state)". Michigan's Take-Back webpage allows for an easy search by location and gives information about what items can be dropped of as well as hours of operation.
And though National Drug Take-Back Day is officially April 27th, if you're busy that day you can schedule your own drug take-back day! Many facilities are available throughout the year including Meijer Pharmacies which recently installed safe medication disposal kiosks in all their stores across the midwest. It's easy, convenient, and safe!
Are there other ways to safely dispose of unneeded medications?
You bet! You don't have to pack your meds up and take them to a local take-back program. There are a number of in-home drug disposal/inactivation systems available for purchase. A couple of examples I'm familiar with (and I'm not advertising anything here!) are Rx destoyer and Deterra.
Both of these products allow you to conveniently and safely dispose of unneeded medicine in an environmentally friendly way. Some are available for purchase at local stores, others over the internet. If you live in an area where a drug take-back site isn't conveniently located, this kind of system offers a great alternative for safe and timely disposal.
Protect yourself, those you love, and the environment.
Medication safety includes timely and safe disposal of unneeded medicines. Use this month's National Drug Take-Back Day as motivation to clean out your medicine cabinet, and find a take-back facility near you or look into in-home medication disposal systems. If you have comments or questions, post them here or contact us at BetterMyMeds!