Off the top of your head, how many old prescription medication containers do you think you have in your home right now?
About a year ago, after hearing yet another news report on the opioid epidemic in our country, I did a sweep of our medicine cabinets, thinking perhaps we still had some of the leftover pain meds from my kids’ wisdom teeth extractions. Those had been disposed of, but I found several bottles of expired cold medications, tossed them, and thought I had gotten rid of everything – both prescription and over-the-counter.
Fast forward to this past weekend when I realized National Drug Take Back Day was rapidly approaching. We’re good, I thought, but I’ll just take a quick look around. Within a minute, hidden behind some moisturizer, I had found a bottle of at least a dozen prescription muscle relaxant pills, and under the sink, buried beneath a bag of cotton balls, a large bottle of codeine cough syrup, with just a few tablespoons used up. Execute parental face palm!
My little search, with its subsequent discoveries, brought home the reality of just how easy it is for so many teens to find drugs in their own homes, even when parents think they are being vigilant. I am well aware that both medications I found are commonly used by kids to get high and could be deadly if mixed with other meds or alcohol. (If you don’t know what “lean” is, ask a college student, or use this link).
This is precisely why the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency launched the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day program back in 2010. Two times a year -in the spring and the fall – we have the opportunity to safely and anonymously dispose of unused and expired prescription medications, thereby preventing potential accidental poisoning, misuse and overdose.
While public awareness of the opioid epidemic and increasing legal restrictions have caused a recent decline in the number of opioid painkillers being prescribed, unintentional poisoning is still the second leading cause of accidental death, behind motor vehicle accidents, in 15-24-year-olds, and is the leading cause of death in 25-64-year-olds.
According to Dr. Talia Puzantian, Associate Professor of Clinical Sciences at Keck Graduate Institute School of Pharmacy in Claremont, California, “The majority of drug overdoses are coming from family and friend’s medicine cabinets.” Far too many parents unwittingly contribute to adolescent and young adult misuse or overdose of drugs by not paying attention to what exactly they’ve kept, and how much of a prescription goes unused.
When we find unused and expired meds at home, the easy temptation is to simply flush them down the sink or toilet. However, many communities prohibit this practice out of concern over trace levels of drug residues found in groundwater and community drinking water supplies. Dr. Puzantian adds, “Take Back Day is a great opportunity for us to reduce accidental poisonings in a way that’s safe and responsible for the environment.”
A helpful rule of thumb is to think of “Spring Cleaning” each year when it comes to both your house, and your medications – particularly if you have small children, teens, or pets, and if you’ve had any surgery or chronic pain issues during the past year. Designate April as the time to look through all medicine cabinets and any other places you store prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, vitamins and supplements. Just a few minutes of your time could potentially prevent a tragedy.
The next Take Back Day is this Saturday – April 17, 2019 – from 10am to 2pm.
The DEA website has a simple-to-use locator for medication drop off sites. Upon entering your zip code and the distance you are willing to travel from your home, you’ll be given results with linked map directions. (I found five locations within 12 miles of my house.)
Phone inquiries can also be made at 1-800-882-9539.
If you miss Take Back Day, you can still find authorized collectors in your area for safe year-round drug disposal at https://takebackday.dea.gov/
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