It can be accidental, like when a small child ingests a pain medication meant for mom or dad.
It can be intentional, like when a sibling or spouse, son or daughter, parent or partner searches for post-surgical painkillers prescribed to another family member. That scenario, according to a Food and Drug Administration article, is often Step 1 toward opioid addiction.
Whatever the motivation, the home medicine cabinet can be a pathway to big problems.
“Yes it can,” says Aisha Jaffri, senior clinical pharmacist at Capital Blue Cross, “because anyone who’s in the home has access to those drugs – children, teenagers, spouses, and partners.”
Unused or expired drugs at home are part of the reason the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 100,306 overdose deaths in the year ending April 2021, a spike of 28.5% from the roughly 78,000 the CDC reported the year before.
That’s why drug take back – which refers to safely ridding homes of unused or expired prescription medications – is so important. Removing these potentially dangerous drugs can keep them from slipping into the wrong hands.
“The most important thing to remember is that drug take back is for people’s safety and health,” Jaffri says. “It’s to prevent medication misuse and opioid addiction, as well as accidental overdose, or even ingestion by a child, if he or she gets ahold of the drugs.”
Drug take back efforts can help reduce the current swell of more than 1,000 people per day who begin misusing prescription pain relievers and other dangerous medications, according to the DEA and Department of Education.
“And some people don’t have the knowledge about proper disposal,” Jaffri said. “So Drug Take Back Days and campaigns are there to promote and urge education for all of us – people with prescription drugs in their homes, and even medical professionals and pharmacists tasked with informing these people.”
For safe disposal of unused, expired or unwanted drugs, the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) suggests asking your pharmacist for drug disposal pouches or take-back boxes. When disposing at a drop-off site, DDAP urges you to keep the medication in its original bottle or a small, sealed container or zip-lock bag.
The DEA allows disposal of:
Prescription patches and ointments
You may not drop off:
Compressed aerosols, such as asthma inhalers
Medications containing iodine
Alcohol or illicit drugs
How to help
You can do your part by properly disposing of the expired, unused, or unwanted prescription drugs in your own home. You can also encourage your family, friends, and neighbors to do the same, and explain to them the dangers associated with readily available drugs resting in cabinets or on countertops.
Capital Blue Cross has sponsored Drug Take Back sites, and devotes a web page urging people to “Make Every Day a Drug Take Back Day,” and not limit safe disposal to the DEA’s two annually assigned Take Back Days.
Visit Capital Blue Cross’ page for more information, and for guidance on finding a take back site near you.