Anyone looking through their medicine cabinet these days might be surprised to find they have quite a few expired medications tucked back on the shelf. It isn’t necessarily that expired medications are bad to take; rather, they’re not good to take. Potency can diminish in older medications as they are exposed to light, temperature fluctuations, and even vibrations (is the dosage “take 100 mg twice per day” or is it “take 89 mg twice per day because some of it chipped off”?). Being eco-minded, it can be tough to dispose of these old medications properly. The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) provides a solution to this challenge by hosting semi-annual take-back events to help consumers dispose of expired drugs or drugs that are no longer needed.
On April 29, 2017, the Dallas Police Department collected over 1,600 pounds of drugs for safe and proper disposal. Nationally, consumers set an all-time record by turning in nearly a million pounds of drugs across 5,500 sites nationwide. A million pounds of drugs.
That’s kind of big. Imagine how many chemicals 1,000,000 pounds of drugs could leach into our ground or surface waters. Or how those medications, if left in a landfill, could alter the chemistry of the bio-mass and slow or stop the breakdown of organic materials.
Drug take-back events are good for a number of reasons.
First, as parents, it reduces the chances that drugs could fall into the wrong hands — intentionally or deliberately. Scary fact, folks, but nearly 80% of all heroin users start out by abusing prescription drugs (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2017).
Second, it decreases the chance of accidental poisonings. Pets, kids, confused loved ones — they can all fall victim to taking the wrong medication and harming themselves. Is it worth the risk to “hang on” to a drug “just in case” you may need it later? Learn more about medication safety from the Texas Poison Center Network.
Third, it keeps these chemicals out of our ecosystem. Whether flushed or trashed, the drugs are going somewhere. Those added chemicals can contribute to the load our infrastructure systems have to manage to keep us safe.
This fall, another event will take place nation-wide as part of the DEA’s efforts. On Saturday, October 28th, before you pack the kids up in the car for the Halloween festivities of the weekend, drop your old or no longer needed prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines off at the collection centers that will be scattered across your community. In the meantime, if you absolutely need to dispose of medications, you can check with your local pharmacy to see if they have a take-back kiosk. If they don’t, they may offer (or sell) take-back mailers into which you put medications and then send through USPS for destruction. One other option you might want to check out, is the Time To Recycle website’s Med Take-Back Locator Map. (This link is managed externally.)
Of course, with prescription medications, you’ll want to remove the labels (or scratch them out) to protect your privacy. But more importantly, you’ll be removing the dangers expiring or unneeded drugs bring into your home.