Disposal of unneeded medicine keeps everyone safe!
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.
Saturday, April 30, 2022, is National Drug Take-Back Day. Seems like there's a National Day for just about every activity, doesn't it? But honestly, every person who takes any kind of medicine should pay attention. Drug disposal is serious business -- 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
The government Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors Drug Take-Back Day twice a year. DEA is in charge of making sure drugs of abuse (controlled substances) are used safely. We've learned over the years that certain medicines pose the risk of misuse and addiction. That's true even when they're prescribed for good reason to people without any history of drug problems. It's clear that most people can use controlled substances safely. But others take the same medication and slowly spiral into dependence or addiction. Many factors help to explain why that can happen. But one thing is for sure -- problems sometimes start when a person takes a potent medication that was prescribed for someone else.
Why might someone take a medication that was prescribed for someone else? Well, there are a couple of common scenarios. A curious person may look in the medicine cabinet, see something interesting, and decide to try it. But another is when a well-meaning person offers a prescription medicine to a friend or relative with a similar health problem. Emptying all unneeded medicines from the cabinet prevents both of those situations from happening. And it's especially important for dangerous medicines like controlled substances.
If you've tried to dispose of unneeded drugs in the past, you may have found that some locations don't take controlled substances. But National Drug Take-Back Day is different. Participating facilities will allow safe disposal of controlled substances, as well as other drugs. I'll provide links to take-back sites later in this article.
Prevention of medication errors
You may be reluctant to get rid of medicine you're no longer taking. And for seemingly good reasons. The medicine may have been expensive. What if the doctor wants to restart it in the future? Or the symptom returns? It may seem wasteful to just discard it. Over time, you may find that you have a kitchen drawer or bathroom shelf with a number of old medicines. Maybe your doctor has changed a dose, so now you have two different strengths of the same medicine. Or you've tried several medicines to treat the same condition and some didn't work. Next thing you know, some of the old medicines are outdated and ineffective. It gets even more complicated if the 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 dangerous medication errors.
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 they degrade and leach into soil and groundwater. When drugs are Incinerated they're inactivated and can no longer cause danger to the environment. Medicine dropped off at a take-back site will be kept secure until it's taken to a facility for destruction.
So how do you know where to take your unneeded meds on April 30th?
Go to the collection site locator on the DEA's take-back wesite to find a location near you. Individual states may have more thorough information though, so you can also search "drug take-back sites (your state)". Michigan's Take-Back webpage allows for an easy search by location It also gives information about what items can be dropped of as well as hours of operation.
And if you're busy on April 30th, you can schedule your own drug take-back day! Many of the locations you'll find with the links above are available throughout the year. And Meijer Pharmacies have safe medication disposal kiosks in 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. If you have comments or questions, post them here or contact us directly at BetterMyMeds! We love hearing from you!