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National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day: How To Throw Away Medications

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A bag of pills that a person dropped off in the box at the drug take back station in the Back Bay parking lot, one of several locations for National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Once the boxes are full they are marked and taken by the police and then the prescription drugs are destroyed. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

If you have unused prescription medications, throw them away. But not in your family members’ mouths. Or other people’s mouths for that matter.

Because if you leave your medications laying around the house, others in your house may end up consuming them. This can occur deliberately if they are potentially addictive medications such as opioids or if they are viewed erroneously as “quick fixes” such as antibiotics, erectile dysfunction medications, or anti-anxiety medications. Or it can occur inadvertently, such as straight-up mistaking erectile dysfunction medications for antibiotics, which is not what you want to do if you have a cough and a fever, or even candy. Don’t be surprised what kids may put in their mouths. Little kids can be like vacuum cleaners that poop.

Throwing medications in the trash doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they won’t end up in other people’s mouths. George Costanza from the television series Seinfield isn’t the only one who will eat things that have been in the trash can. One option is to wrap the medications in a sealed plastic bag with something really undesirable like dirty diapers, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds, make sure that it isn’t obviously medications (such as not labeling it “Opioids in Here”), and discard them in a secure trash receptacle. Also, make sure that you remove the prescription bottle labels, unless you want to tell everyone what you have been taking. This option may work if you are careful, but again, you’d be shocked at the lengths that people will go through to get certain medications.

Flushing medications down the toilet or the sink is not necessarily a great idea either. I have written before for Forbes about how antidepressants have been found in The Great Lakes and fish, which is depressing. Your toilet is not connected to a fifth dimensional zone or the Outer Limits where poop becomes magical unicorns and One Direction songs. It is connected to the water system and the environment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does offer a list of medications that you may flush down the toilet if you absolutely have to do so. But try to avoid this option. Don’t add to the pollution around us.

Instead, there are safer ways to dispose of your unused prescription medications. For example, today is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is working with local law enforcement agencies to  provides locations around the country to drop off your medications. As the DEA Take Back Day website describes, the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 6.2 million Americans misused controlled prescription drugs, mostly from family and friends knowingly and unknowingly, frequently via the home medicine cabinet. The website includes a Collection Site Locator, where you can plug in your address and find a local drop-off point.

Here’s a Tweet from the DEA about today:

This doesn’t mean that you have to wait until Drug Take-Back Day to discard your medications. You can always find such safe disposal locations by checking this DEA web site. Also, ask you doctor or pharmacist whenever you get prescriptions about how best to safely discard the unused medications. Moreover, try not to get more medications than you really need. Medications are not like One Direction albums. Don’t keep them around just because you may need them one day. You should finish your full prescribed course of antibiotics. Keeping extra pain medications or psychoactive substances around can be dangerous and too tempting. Getting too many erectile dysfunction medications is just wishful thinking.

If you need to keep extra medications around, make sure that are stored securely. Treat them like money, because some can be literally sold on the sly.

Also, teach your kids that George Costanza is not a good role model.

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