What Exactly Am I Supposed To Do With Unused Prescription Drugs?

Consuming prescription drugs is fairly easy to do. You open up wide, toss the drugs into your mouth and swallow. Voilà! However, while everybody knows how to consume prescription drugs, very few people seem to know what to do if and when they need to dispose of them. Adding to the complication is the fact that at the current moment, federal law prohibits pharmacies from re-accepting unused controlled substances like OxyContin, Adderall, Valium and Xanax, to name a very few. The good news is that this is about to change.

The New York Times reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) just announced a new ruling that will allow you “to return unused prescription medications” by either bringing them back to the pharmacy or mailing them to “an authorized collector using packages to be made available at pharmacies and other locations.” Keep in mind that the ruling does not go into effect until next month. Plus, there are a couple other problems that might pop up.

For one, pharmacies will not be mandated to implement a take-back program, meaning that there is zero guarantee that the pharmacy from which you retrieve your prescription drugs will participate. Second, local pharmacies might lack the resources needed to afford the types of tools (think incinerators, for instance) needed to destroy unused prescription drugs. Mind you, according to the NY Times, the new ruling does “not require a particular method of destruction, as long as the drugs are permanently and irreversibly altered.”

All this is irrelevant, however, because until the ruling goes into effect sometime in October, you must contend with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current recommended methods for the disposal of unused medication. These methods include following the “disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling” and taking advantage of “community drug take-back programs.” Note that the FDA strongly urges against flushing unused drugs down the toilet (which is a common practice) unless the drug’s labeling specifically “instructs you to do so.”

The reason that the FDA prefers that you avoid flushing prescription pills unless absolutely necessary is because of the environmental concerns. While the FDA acknowledges “there has been no indication of environmental effects due to flushing,” it prefers to err on the side of caution. This is why it recommends that you not “add drug residues into water systems unnecessarily.”

Anyway. So why did the DEA all of a sudden decide to finally allow consumers to return unused pills to pharmacies? The Wall Street Journal points to a statement made by Attorney General Eric Holder in which he pointed out that “close to four in 10 teens who misused prescription drugs obtained them from family medicine cabinets.”

“These shocking statistics illustrate that prescription drug addiction and abuse represent nothing less than a public health crisis,” he said in the video message. Every day, this crisis touches—and devastates—the lives of Americans from every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life.”

The belief therefore is that stockpiles of unused prescription drugs in family homes get looted by irrational teens hellbent on having a good time. And the reason that these drugs are piling up at home is because parents don’t have an easy and convenient way to get rid of them.

Regardless, the only thing that’s unknown at this point in time is just how many pharmacies will jump on the bandwagon and participate once this ruling goes into effect. There’s no guarantees, but hopefully, the pharmacy you use will be one of those that decides to start accept unused prescription drugs.

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