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Have you ever heard of a DEA Take Back Day? If you have unused prescription drugs in your home (and so many of us do), you can turn in those prescriptions at approved locations. Medicines will be collected with no questions asked and then disposed of properly. If you miss the collection day, it’s still possible to safely dispose of your meds with the disposal programs run by many pharmacies. Purchase an approved bag at the store (I spent about $4 US at a Rite Aid last year), fill it up with the scripts and put in the mail.

Because so many children are abusing prescription drugs, it’s really important to secure them and dispose of old or unused medications. I was privileged to interview Dr. Carmen Catizone, the executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Foundation (NABP) about their AWARxE Consumer Protection Program and the above-mentioned Take Back Day. Enjoy!

1) Typically, how many medicines do you find in the average home?

Catizone: The most recent analysis from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics indicates that the average number of retail prescriptions dispensed per person was 11.33 in 2011. As a whole, 4.02 billion prescriptions were written to American patients in 2011.

2) Are there statistics on how many prescription meds tend to be kept around unused?  If so, how much is that happening?

Catizone: The amount of drugs collected during the first five Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take Back Days may be indicative of the number of unneeded medications lingering in homes across the country. DEA collected a total of 2 million pounds of unneeded and expired medications from consumers during the first five events. The last event on September 29, 2012 collected a total of 488,395 pounds, showing the continuous need for consumers to have a safe means of drug disposal.

3) Why shouldn’t we just throw the medicine away?

Catizone: Flushing certain medications or improper disposal in the garbage can lead to safety and environmental hazards. When drugs are brought to an authorized DEA collection site, or other legal disposal program, they are processed for safe destruction.

4) If a person misses Take-Back Day, are there other safe ways to dispose of medications?

Catizone: Cities and counties across the country provide permanent medication disposal programs. Many programs provide a drop-box at a police department – these programs can take controlled substance medications for disposal. Other programs are run by hazardous waste disposal agencies or other entities that cannot accept controlled substance medications, but can take all other unused drugs for safe disposal.

Many of the AWARXE Get Local pages, www.awarerx.org/get-local, have links to local disposal programs, and we are actively expanding these resources. We are happy to take information about local programs and post it on our Web site. Anyone who has information on a disposal program can e-mail the information they have to AWARErx@nabp.net and we will review it for inclusion on the respective state’s Get Local page.

If there are no drug disposal sites near you, there are options for disposing of drugs at home. The information that comes with your prescription may provide instructions on home disposal. Only some medications should be flushed down the toilet and the US Food and Drug Administration has a list of these drugs on its Web site. If there are no instructions for disposal you can throw the drugs in your home garbage. But first, take them out of the container and mix them with an undesirable substance like coffee grounds or cat litter. Seal the mixture in a seal-able bag, empty can, or other container that can be disposed of in the garbage.

More details about drug disposal are available on the AWARXE Medication Disposal page at www.awarerx.org/get-informed/find-disposal-information.

5) Are OTC meds also a concern? 

Catizone: Unfortunately, over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications are abused. For example, the Office of National Drug Control Policy reported that in 2006, 3.1 million people aged 12 to 25 had abused these medications to get high. Surveys have shown that 1 in 16 high school seniors abuse cold medicine.

To choose the correct OTC medication and use it safely, be sure to read the label and look for the condition or symptom the medicine treats, and how much of the medicine to take, how often, and for how long.

Talk with your pharmacist or other health care provider if you have any questions about choosing or using the OTC medication, such as whether you can take the medication with your current prescription medications.

Keep in mind that children are not small adults. OTC medications dosed for adults are not meant for children. Ask your pharmacist or doctor to help you decide which OTCs are appropriate for the children in your care.

Also, check the labels of OTC medications for the amount of acetaminophen contained, and check any prescription medications you are taking to see if they include acetaminophen. Do not take two medications containing acetaminophen as this can lead to overdose and liver damage.

There are many other tips for safe use of OTC medications on the OTC Medication Use page of the AWARXE Web site.

6) What are some good ways to secure medications in the home?

Catizone: Be sure to store medications out of sight and reach of children and to lock them up when possible. The bathroom cabinet is often not the best place for medications.

You may want to lock your medications in a cupboard or a medicine safe, especially to avoid unintentional use by your child or misuse by family or visitors to your home. Safe places might be in a linen closet or dresser drawer, if these are secure and out of children’s reach.

You can also remind babysitters, house guests, and visitors to keep purses, bags, or coats that have medicines in them out of sight and out of reach of children when they are in your home.

Both prescription drugs and OTC drugs should be securely stored.

Links for cited Web pages:

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want to keep kids from abusing medications.