I want to let you know about National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, an event organized each year by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as part of its National Take-Back Initiative. I'm sure many of you have unused prescription drugs sitting in kitchen cabinets or medicine cabinets at home.
On Saturday, April 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can take any expired or otherwise unwanted prescription medications to a local collection site, where the drugs will be disposed of properly. You can search for your nearest authorized collection sites on the DEA's website, or by calling 1-800-882-9539.
The 2016 event was the most productive in the program's seven-year history, as the DEA and local law enforcement collected 893,498 pounds of unwanted medications — about 447 tons — at almost 5,400 sites across all 50 states. (The top five states were Texas, California, Wisconsin, Illinois and Massachusetts.) That beat the previous record of 390 tons set in 2014, and as the DEA said in a press release, it suggests Americans understand why this program is valuable.
An estimated one-third of medication sold in the U.S. goes unused, and many drugs pose environmental threats if discarded improperly. Flushing drugs down toilets, for example, can contaminate waterways and cause trouble for wildlife.
But some prescription drugs pose an even more immediate danger to people. The U.S. has a widespread issue with prescription opioids: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription opioids and heroin killed more than 33,000 people across the U.S. in 2015 — about 90 per day — for the highest yearly total on record. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription.
As the DEA explained in 2016, unused drugs in homes are a significant risk:
The majority of prescription drug abusers report in surveys that they get their drugs from friends and family. Americans understand that cleaning out old prescription drugs from medicine cabinets, kitchen drawers and bedside tables reduces accidents, thefts, and the misuse and abuse of these medicines.
Take a few minutes to go through your old prescriptions and identify which ones you no longer need. Find a local collection site, then observe Take-Back Day by dumping off your dangerous drugs on the DEA. If you must discard prescription drugs for some reason, the Pill Terminator may offer a way to do it more safely. For more information about drug disposal in general, check out this page from the DEA.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in April 2013.