Most families have a designated area in their home for old or unused prescription and over-the-counter medications. Many bathrooms come equipped with a medicine cabinet specifically designed to hold pills. However, did you know that keeping old and unused medications easily accessible puts you and your loved ones at risk?
According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health 88.3% of people surveyed who misused prescription pain pills in the previous year acquired them from a health care professional or family and friends. Of that 88%, 5.5% said that they stole the drugs from a family member, friend or health care clinic. Those astounding numbers leave us with the question of what we can do to reduce the risk of allowing our prescriptions to get into the wrong hands.
Disposal Options for Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs
Proper disposal or donation and raising support for these programs are critical aspects to decreasing the likelihood of everyone’s prescriptions ending up where they would have adverse effects.
With substance use disorder becoming increasingly common across the United States and the staggering statistics of prescription pain pill misuse, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sponsors a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. These events allow people to turn in their unused or expired medicines to law enforcement agencies, pharmacies or other collection sites. Not only do these programs make it convenient for the average person to ensure that they are disposing of potentially harmful medications correctly, but it reduces the potential for these drugs to end up in the wrong hands.
When a person is in recovery for addiction, having easily accessible prescriptions could significantly increase the chances of relapse, making it crucial that all unused medications be disposed of promptly. If you or someone you know is going through recovery, having prescription drugs that you don’t need anymore just sitting around is not a good idea. Dropping these medications off at a sponsored event not only could help someone in need, but it could help someone you love to stay clean.
In some states, donating unused prescription medication is a new way to take unused medicine out of risky situations and find a way for someone in need to benefit from them. There are multiple charities, pharmacies and hospitals that set up repository sites where you can donate the medications so that they will be redistributed to eligible patients.
Programs like this immensely benefit patients in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington where cancer-specific drug acquisition programs allow for the redistribution of costly cancer treatment and supplemental drugs to patients in need. This helps lessen the financial and mental burden of affording cancer therapy for many families. Although donating is the most beneficial way to dispose of unused medicine, there are a few rules and, like with anything, a few drawbacks.
Frequently, these medicines are tough to afford and even harder for insurance to cover in full. Donation fills those gaps in the communities where these programs have been established. Most programs follow similar guidelines regarding what drugs they will accept, what packaging the drugs must be in and what drugs can’t be accepted because they are too old or expired. These standards ensure safety for the possible patients who will receive them and those in charge of handling them.
In some states, these programs can accept all sorts of drugs in a sealed package, and others even accept the donation of medical devices. Programs and charities that distribute these much-needed medicines make an expansive impact on the patients who receive them.
Drug donation programs aren’t legal everywhere yet. Although many states are working to enact programs and organize the collection of redistributable medicines, it is still not permitted to just give someone a medication prescribed for another person.
Sometimes, donating or Take-Back Day programs are not an option in your area, but you may still want to support those in your life who may be at risk or suffering from substance use disorder. In that case, these options are the next-best approach to disposing of those substances.
FDA-approved Disposal Methods
Flushing down a drain is the least impactful way to dispose of medicines. The Food and Drug Administration has compiled a list of medications that you can flush down the toilet or sink. Although this practice is highly debated in regards to its impact on ground and drinking water, the FDA states that the drugs on the flush list would do worse than the potential environmental damage studied if they fell into the wrong hands.
These drugs could lead to an overdose or death if taken inappropriately. The drugs on the list are also the most commonly misused and sought-after for abuse, making it even more imperative to destroy any chance of someone taking them either accidentally or on purpose.
Suppose that there are no donation sites near you, and your medication does not have specific disposal instructions and is not on the flush list. In that case, the FDA recommends throwing most other medicines in your household trash can after following a few simple instructions.
First, mix the unused portion of medication with another trash substance such as used coffee grounds or animal bedding or litter. Covering the drugs with inedible substances ensures that they look and smell unappealing to anyone going through the trash. The mixture should then be placed into a sealed bag, jar or can as an added layer of protection against leakage. At that point, you can throw the medicine into the trash.
Once the actual substance is disposed of properly, it is good to remove any personal information from the prescription packaging. Doing so is an added precaution that you can take to safeguard your identity and medical security. When your personal and prescription information has been removed, you can recycle plastic containers with other plastics.
Taking these extra steps to dispose of your old and unused medications responsibly may seem like it’s too much work for no immediate reward. However, the ripple effect that happens from choosing to take these actions is expansive. For families with young children, the benefits are apparent. You protect your children from accidentally consuming medication that is not intended for them. Further than that, you are demonstrating to your kids how to responsibly use and dispose of prescription medications, a trend that we desperately need to develop to start slowing the cycle of substance use.
These actions can help protect loved ones who are recovering or thinking about sobriety to take the proper steps. It could even lead to them seeking treatment once the dialogue is open. Simply making an effort to be responsible about handling your medicines could end up being a life-or-death decision.
The final step in preventing misuse of prescription medications is proper storage and organization of the medicines kept in your home. No one wants to facilitate accidental consumption, especially when something as common as Tylenol can have lasting adverse health effects. You can do a few simple tasks to store your medicines safely.
Steps for Responsible Storage
Make an inventory sheet of all the medicines that you have in your home seasonally. As you’re stocking up on decongestants in the fall or allergy meds in the spring, jot down what medications you have on hand and in what quantities. Having a current inventory reduces the risk of commonly abused drugs going missing and allows you to check expiration dates and discard any old medicines that you no longer use.
If there are younger children or teens in the home, it is best to keep medicines in a locked safe box or protected cabinet. Keeping all prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs in a locked area reduces the possibility of a child mistaking the medication for something to eat or drink like candy or soda, and it eliminates the temptation for teens who may be thinking of or experimenting. Keep the combination to the lockbox in a spot that’s easily accessible in an emergency but not so easy that anyone can find and use it.
Dispose of old medicines when they expire. Often, people hear of saving the unused portion of a treatment like antibiotics or pain pills to have some on hand in case of emergency or financial hardship. As well-intentioned as this idea sounds, saving expired medicine can cause more harm than good.
In some cases, like with antibiotics, the drug can lose effectiveness after the expiration date. If taken to fight a virus, expired antibiotics would weaken the response, and the virus could mutate, causing disaster for the patient. Keeping pain pills or other commonly misused substances could cause a friend or family member to have access and the ability to start, continue or relapse into substance use.
Education and Recovery
The final part of the equation regarding disposing of medicines is education and awareness. The creation of legal donation programs and take-back days has undoubtedly saved many lives. With a platform to raise awareness, increase prevention and help rally community support for those battling substance use disorders, we can create a positive change through compassion and increased understanding of how our small actions lead to significant change.
A key trend noted in the drug use survey above is that of the 9.7 million people who admitted to prescription pain medication misuse, 404,000 also used heroin. This statistic alone shows the shortcomings that need addressing when it comes to medication management, pain treatment and how therapy needs to be more readily available and publicly supported.
For this reason, Granite Recovery Centers staff meets our clients where they are on their path to recovery. Our complete service centers are staffed by experts who genuinely care and want to see their clients succeed. We’re ready to help you find the right program to meet your needs. By overseeing your care from medically monitored detox to sober living and family therapies, we are here to ensure that those who need us most are supported at all phases on their road to sobriety. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.
We believe that through bringing awareness to proper disposal of medications, we can open the dialogue of how the community can also impact the lives of those struggling with drug misuse. With the proper organizational oversight, fundraising and marketing, events like Take-Back Days could expand their reach.
When it comes to disposing of unused prescription medications responsibly, you have many options to keep you and your loved ones safe. Spend some time researching all the available resources in your area for disposal and make your choice based on not only the drugs you have on hand but which option makes the most significant impact for your community and those you care about. If no donation or disposal sites are available in your area yet, follow the FDA-approved disposal methods above to ensure proper and responsible disposal.
Resources for Overcoming Drug Addiction
At Granite Recovery Centers, we offer various programs and resources to help you on your journey to recovery and a renewed sense of purpose and self-confidence. One of the biggest hurdles that someone in active addiction faces is feeling alone and unsupported. Our therapies and programs are here to support you every step of the way in dealing with prescription drug use disorder. From medically monitored detoxing to inpatient rehab, co-occurring disorder therapy, and our vast aftercare options, you will find the support and expertise you’ve been looking for at Granite Recovery Centers.
Our relapse prevention therapy assists clients in identifying situations where relapse could be possible and, with the help of the therapist, finding new ways to react to lessen chances of temptation. Ongoing therapies such as this and others that include family members and community in addiction recovery play a vital role in lowering the chances of continued drug use.