April 28, 2018 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This semi-annual event gives all of us the opportunity and the reminder to safely dispose of expired and unneeded prescription drugs. Hanging on to old medication puts the rest of the household, especially children and pets, at risk for dangerous medical consequences. By participating, caregivers, home care aides and loved ones can prevent drug misuse, addiction, and even death.

Why is the proper disposal of expired or unused prescription medicine so important? Per the DEA’s website, “The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day addresses a crucial public safety and public health issue. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.4 million Americans abused controlled prescription drugs. The study shows that a majority of abused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends, often from the home medicine cabinet.” The last National Take Back Day on October 28, 2017 collected more than 70,000 pounds of drugs in California alone, and 456 tons nationally. Shockingly, the stats for the April 2017, October 2016 and April 2016 Take Back Days are similar! Collection sites this year include neighborhood pharmacies like Walgreens, Longs and CVS, the pharmacies at Camp Pendleton, MCRD and the Navy Medical Center, and several Kaiser Permanente pharmacies around San Diego. The DEA wants to make it easy for you to dispose of your old prescriptions, so use this link to find a prescription drug take-back site near you on April 28th.

What if you can’t bring your expired, unwanted or unused prescriptions to an official disposal site, because of distance, time or physical constraints? The FDA offers these steps for safe disposal of most drugs in your own home trash:

  • Mix all the pills (but don’t crush tablets or capsules) with something gross like dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds
  • Put the unpleasant mixture in a secure container like a sealed plastic bag
  • Toss the bag or container in your regular household trash
  • Peel off the label on the empty pill container or packaging or scratch out all personal information on the prescription label to make it unreadable, then dispose of the container, in a separate bag

Home trash disposal works for most medications, assuming the ‘gross’ substance you use renders the pills unusable. But if no other disposal methods are available, as a last resort the FDA advises that some drugs can and should be flushed down the toilet. Despite environmental concerns about adding strong chemicals to the water supply, these drugs are so powerful and dangerous that even one dose taken by the wrong person, child or pet could be fatal. According to the FDA, “Based on the available data, FDA believes that the known risk of harm, including death, to humans from accidental exposure to certain medicines, especially potent opioid medicines, far outweighs any potential risk to humans or the environment from flushing these medicines.” The FDA maintains a list of “flushable” medications on their website, which includes fentanyl, Demerol, diazepam, all variations of oxycodone, all variations of morphine, and their generics. If you do flush any of these medications, especially the opioids, be sure to peel off the label, or scratch out your name and identifying info from the label, before putting the bottle in the trash.

Intentional and accidental misuse of medication can happen in any home, so safety measures apply to all of us. Caregivers, home care aides and loved ones can work together this month to reduce and eliminate the risk that expired or surplus prescription drugs pose to the entire household.