It is imperative to appropriately dispose of leftover prescription and over-the-counter drugs to protect the health of people, animals, and the environment—a real One Health issue. October and April are the biannual National Drug Take Back Days, which help lessen negative health impacts. On October 28, 2023, bring any extra, expired, or unused prescription drugs, vitamins, and other items to a nearby drop-off location.
October 28, 2023, from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM, is the 25th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.
Prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, and related items should all be disposed of properly to avoid contaminating the environment.
Properly storing and disposing of unused medications lessens the risk of inappropriate medication sharing, childhood and animal poisonings, and even illicit drug use.
Opioids are one example of a controlled substance that is frequently wasted. These restricted medications carry the risk of toxicity (overdose), theft, and abuse if kept unchecked. Therefore, proper disposal saves lives.
Preventing drug overdoses is viewed as a risk to public safety, a national security concern, and a One Health issue (a threat to the health of people, animals, and the environment).
National prescription drug take back day
Every year, on the final Saturday in April and October, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) organizes National Prescription Take Back Day. The date of the next takeback day is October 28, 2023.
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. Therefore, the products will not pose a risk to human health in the future if they are disposed of in a way that could leak into the water or food supply.
Why a national take back day?
There are numerous societal inputs that are endangering our environment, including land, water, air, climate, and more. When it comes to accomplishment and modernization, the industrial world is incredible. On the planet, though, it has had a cost.
- The effects of the opioid crisis must be lessened.
- Environmental harm must be minimized.
- The likelihood of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) must be reduced.
The very 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 such 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. Facilities that serve people with public water supplies neither regularly remove drugs from their water nor are they equipped to do so.
However, the National 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.
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 auto accidents, and 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.
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:
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.
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. Only that person is permitted to use them.
If you give your medication to someone else, there may be deadly consequences. Using a medication without a prescription can have serious consequences for someone who takes it because of 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 taking them. This raises the possibility of organisms becoming resistant to them (AMR), which can eventually cause environmental, human, and animal health issues as well as catastrophic events.
Over 700,000 people die by suicide every year, which is tragically common in today's difficult world. 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 other 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
- 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
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Illegal drugs (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 have located a location take part in this October's take-back day, make sure the items you wish to dispose of are allowed by visiting the website or your local regulatory site. Not every location takes every kind of medication. Be aware of what they will consent to in advance.
But I missed the day, now what?
What if you miss the date? Where can you take unused meds? 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. To learn more, visit the DEA website.
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
There are a lot of threats that still exist today, including wars, COVID-19, other infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the opioid epidemic (crisis, drug abuse, and fatalities), climate change, and more.
Everyone's health and well-being can be enhanced by taking even a small action to safeguard the planet's ecosystem, water supply, food supply, and living things—both human and animal—that share it with us.
On October 28, 2023, 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.
- U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Diversion Control Division. National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.
- U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Diversion Control Division. Resources: Drug Disposal Information.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). How To Dispose of Medicines Properly.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection. National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.
- PA Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. Prescription drug take-back information.
Show all references
- Expert Review of Anti-infective Therapy. Improper disposal of unused antibiotics: an often overlooked driver of antimicrobial resistance.
- World Health Organization. Suicide.