Up until 2010, people with leftover or unwanted prescription medication didn’t have a lot of options when it came to disposing it. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, or CSA, recommended one of three ways: self-disposal through flushing or discarding, giving them to police officers, or contacting the DEA. Then, forty years later, in October of 2010, the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act was passed. The act amended the CSA to allow for (and fund) drug disposal sites and drug take back programs.

Since then, numerous sites and programs have been in action. We will discuss the importance of having these sites and programs, where you might be able to find one, and also the extracurricular benefits drug disposal offers.

Why do this?

The main reason for initiating drug take-back and disposal programs is for public safety. Studies from the New York Department of Health show that 2,500 kids a day abuse their first prescription pill. For 12 and 13 year olds, the prescription pill is the drug of choice, and abuse of medication has come to be known as “pharming.” 4.5 million American children have “pharmed” and trust that they are getting the pills from friends and family. Go home and open your medicine cabinet. What’s really in there?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “…more than 30 reports of accidental exposure to the powerful pain medication in fentanyl patches – most of them in children under two years old” have occurred to date. Twelve cases were fatal. Who knows how many children overdose from prescription pills acquired easily from a cabinet?

The secondary reason for these programs is environmental protection. When pills are discarded, flushed, or even passed naturally through the body, trace amounts end up in both the soil and the water. While studies show the impact on humans is negligible, the impact on microorganisms and the surrounding environment are less understood. A quote directly from the study done by the National Library of Medicine reads, “…recent monitoring studies have detected low levels of a wide range of pharmaceuticals … in soils, surface waters and groundwaters…”

Removing countless pills from the hands of minors and protecting the environment at the same time sounds like a heck of a payoff from implementing these programs.

How can I dispose of my meds?

There are now plenty of ways to safely discard unused or unwanted medication. The DEA offers annual drug take back days. Start here by seeing if there is a local collection site near you. (Note to reader: at the time of this publication, the website read that collection sites are still being confirmed, and will be searchable ASAP). Also, along the same line, is an organization known as MedReturn. They set up safe collection sites that are available for use every day. Click here to find a MedReturn site near you.

If reaching a collection site is not possible, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), recommends the following for home disposal. Do not flush or dump into the sink any medications without checking to see if they can safely be flushed. Now, remove all pills from all containers, place them into a plastic bag, and fill the rest of the bag with pungent waste, such as coffee grounds, food waste, cat litter, etc. The idea is to deter any human or animal from ingesting the drugs, even after disposal. For any sharp objects being discarded, place them in disposal containers made of hard plastic.

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