National Prescription Drug Take Back Day: Don't Throw Out Old Meds

It's crucial to dispose of leftover prescription and over-the-counter drugs properly to safeguard the health of people, animals, and the environment — a significant One Health concern. Biannually in October and April, National Prescription Drug Take Back Days serve to mitigate adverse health effects. On April 27, 2024, take any surplus, expired, or unused prescription drugs, vitamins, and related items to a nearby drop-off point.

When is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day?

Every year, on the final Saturday in April and October, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) organizes National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. The date of the next takeback day is April 27, 2024, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There are places expressly reserved and designated for drug medication returns twice a year at numerous locations across the country; no questions asked.

With this program, you can safely and anonymously dispose of your medications, knowing that they will be disposed of in a way that minimizes environmental damage. By doing so, these products won't pose a risk to human health in the future, preventing any potential contamination of water or food supplies.

Why National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is important

Many societal factors are posing threats to our environment, impacting land, water, air, climate, and beyond. The achievements and advancements of the industrialized world are remarkable, but they have come at a significant cost to our planet.

  • The effects of the opioid crisis must be lessened.
  • Environmental harm must be minimized.
  • The likelihood of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) must be reduced.

1. Environmental safeguarding

The least we can do to decrease our impact on the environment is to dispose of medications properly. This will stop pharmaceuticals and any metabolites (byproducts) that come from the drug's breakdown from getting into the environment, water systems, and food supply, thereby avoiding any harmful effects on human, animal, or environmental health.

Imagine that your prescription and over-the-counter medications end up in the toilet because you have a septic tank. If this is the case, they may seep into the earth and contaminate your water supply. Those who use well water are not shielded from unwelcome drug residues from discarded medications by routine treatments or water softening. Furthermore, facilities serving areas with public water supplies neither routinely remove drugs from the water nor possess the capability to do so.

However, the National Prescription Drug Take Back Days have more purposes than merely protecting the environment. The opioid epidemic and the overabundance of opioids are huge concerns. Preventing the emergence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is another reason.

2. Opioids

Unfortunately, opioid misuse is a widespread problem. Following surgery, doctors frequently prescribe controlled substances like fentanyl, morphine, methadone, and others to treat pain, injuries from accidents, and various other ailments.

Most of the time, after taking those opioids for a few days, they simply forget about them and leave them in the cabinets. This presents a risk of drug abuse, theft, poisoning, and improper medication sharing.

3. Antimicrobials

Uncontrolled, commonplace drugs like antibiotics can also cause issues. When antibiotics are used improperly, they can contribute to AMR or an insufficient recovery from the illness for which they were prescribed.

Imagine if these drugs are just flushed down the toilet or wind up in landfills where they contaminate the surrounding water supply, ultimately leaching into the ground and soil. If so, they can potentially do a great deal of harm in the future.

Consequences of improperly disposed medications

Any improperly disposed medication poses a risk for the following reasons:

Theft

Storing medications that are not being used puts them at risk of theft. Certain medications have a high value and are often stolen. This can result in selling drugs to people, including children, or using illegal drugs yourself. Further, it can lead to toxicity or death.

Poisoning

If an adult, child, or pet inadvertently swallows a variety of medications, it could be fatal. Overdosing frequently occurs as a result of curious children and pets ingesting inappropriate substances. These harmful incidents may occur accidentally or on purpose. Nevertheless, such situations can be avoided by restricting access to unused and expired drugs.

Inappropriate medication sharing

Prescription drugs are prescribed for specific patients, whereas over-the-counter (OTC) medications, like acetaminophen (Tylenol®), are accessible to everyone.

Sharing medication with someone else can have fatal consequences. Taking medication without a prescription can lead to severe outcomes for individuals due to allergies, potential drug interactions, or other contraindications.

Development of AMR

Antibiotics, for example, are prescribed by doctors to be taken for a predetermined period of time before being discontinued. No leftovers should be present. Far too many people take a few doses, but once they start feeling better, they quit. This raises the possibility of organisms becoming resistant to them (AMR), which can eventually cause environmental and health issues as well as catastrophic events.

Suicide prevention

Over 700,000 people die by suicide every year. While some may decide to commit suicide by using a weapon, others may take pills and frequently mix them with alcohol. Possession of unutilized medications can raise the likelihood of polypharmacy suicide attempts.

It does not have to be an opioid or other controlled substance; it could be an antidepressant, over-the-counter medicine like ibuprofen or other NSAIDs, or a host of drugs that are safe when taken separately but can be deadly when combined. Suicide risk can be decreased by limiting access and minimizing the storage of excess medication.

What can you drop off?

What items are accepted may vary from site to site. Generally, the DEA-approved sites will accept all of the following items:

  • OTC medications, e.g., NSAIDs or supplements
  • Prescription medications
  • Prescription patches, e.g., pain or local anesthetic patches
  • Prescription creams
  • Vitamins
  • Your pet's medications

Remove your personal information before dropping items into the collection site, including prescription labels, address, and contact info, and submit all medications in their original bottles/containers.

What isn’t accepted?

Not all items are accepted, and items excluded from the take back program include:

  • Anything delivered via an aerosol or cylinder, such as COPD or asthma inhalers
  • Medications containing iodine
  • Thermometers
  • Alcohol
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Illegal drugs (e.g., LSD, heroin, marijuana). Although legal in some states, marijuana remains illegal federally and is not accepted at DEA take back sites.

Finding your local take back location

Locate the nearest drop-off location by heading to the DEA’s National Take Back Initiative Collection Site Search or calling 1-800-882-9539.

Once you've identified a location, ensure that the items you intend to dispose of are permitted by visiting the website or consulting your local regulatory site. Not all locations accept every type of medication, so it's important to be aware of their guidelines beforehand.

What if I missed the day?

Do not worry if you miss the last take-back day of the year. DEA Authorized Collectors are always willing to accept unwanted medications and related products for disposal.

Additionally, the DEA provides information on how to safely dispose of a variety of products without harming the environment on its website under the resources and drug disposal sections. This covers vape pens, pills, cannabis concentrates, and other sharp objects.

Lastly, inquire with the hospitals in your area. A lot of them will have a medication drop-off box near the hospital pharmacy.

Why proper medication disposal matters

Every individual can contribute to enhancing overall health and well-being by taking even small actions to protect the planet's ecosystem, water supply, food chain, and the diverse range of living beings — both human and animal — that coexist with us.

On April 27, 2024, bring your unwanted or expired prescription and over-the-counter medications to the closest drop-off location to help preserve people's lives and save the environment.

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