Why It’s Important to Get Rid of Unused Medication

When it comes time to dispose of your leftover or expired medicines, you might be tempted to just toss unused pills into the trash—20 percent of people got rid of their meds this way, according to a Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 Americans.

But discarded drugs can contaminate landfill soil and the water supply, according to a study published in 2014 in the journal Environmental Science. And pills can be fished out of the garbage by kids and even pets.

A far better way to dispose of old and unused meds is to drop them off at National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, this Saturday, April 29.

Throughout the U.S., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can drop off unused pills and liquid medications at designated police departments, fire stations, health clinics, and other facilities in your community for proper disposal. (This doesn’t include inhalers or syringes; see below for how to dispose of those.)

To find a collection site near you, visit www.DEA.gov or call 800-882-9539.

Drop-off is free and anonymous. If you miss this event, there’s a second drug take-back day later this year, on October 28.

A Safer Way to Clear Out Old Opioids

To help reduce prescription drug abuse, The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), in conjunction with the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, launched Take-Back Day seven years ago. Since then, this event  has collected more than 7.2 million pounds of medications.

Take-Back Day goes a long way toward “eliminating the possibility of a family member or stranger removing your drugs from a medicine cabinet with the intent to misuse or abuse them,” says DEA spokesman Melvin S. Patterson.

Many people keep old or unused pills such as opioids in their cabinets because they don’t know how to dispose of them, Patterson says.

Recent research bears that out: According to a survey published in last June in JAMA Internal Medicine, 60 percent of people who had been recently prescribed an opioid—Vicodin, Percocet, and others—reported holding on to the drugs for future use. Almost half said that they weren’t aware of how to properly store or dispose of the drugs.

Meanwhile deaths from the use of these drugs have reached epidemic levels—91 people die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Anyone participating in Take-Back Day is a welcome part of the solution to a significant problem,” Patterson adds. “It gives everyone an opportunity to take part in ridding our communities of old, unwanted, and potentially harmful drugs.”  

The drugs you turn in on Take-Back Day are all incinerated—never redispensed or put into landfills, Patterson says.

Other Ways to Dispose

If you can’t participate in Take-Back Day this Saturday but still have unused meds to get rid of, follow these steps:

Buy an envelope and mail back your meds. Costco, CVS, and Rite-Aid pharmacies sell postage-paid envelopes for a few dollars that…

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