Program aims to safely dispose of unused medications, curb drug abuse

Monday, October 3, 2011
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Chances are good there's some expired or unneeded prescription medication hiding in the back of your medicine cabinet or kitchen drawer. And with prescription drug abuse on the rise, the Drug Enforcement Administration is seeking to get unused pills out of homes and dispose of them safely with a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Oct. 29.

"What we're hoping to do by taking this out of people's hands is to prevent it from getting in the hands of people who can be involved in accidental overdose or illicit sales" of prescription drugs, says Larry Gregory, special agent with the DEA in Cape Girardeau.

Gregory says prescription drug abuse is becoming a No. 1 issue and the DEA is sponsoring these programs to help out the community by keeping drugs off the streets.

According to the 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 7 million Americans abuse prescription drugs. Studies show that most prescription drug abusers get pills from family and friends, including the home medicine cabinet. Prescription drug use is especially a concern among teenagers, who may have easy access to their parents' or grandparents' medication. Data from the Partnership for a Drug Free America shows that each day about 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time.

The DEA has sponsored take-back days twice before: Once in September 2010 and again in April 2011. Gregory says local law enforcement agencies participated both times. In April, the Cape Girardeau Police Department collected nearly 100 pounds at two collection sites; close to 1,000 pounds total was collected in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois.

The Cape Girardeau take-back location will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 29 in the West Park Mall parking lot between J.C. Penney and Steak 'N Shake. Gregory says the location has been used before, with a strong turnout.

There will also be Drug Take Back locations in other Southeast Missouri communities; contact your local police department for details. "Any police department that has been made aware (of the program); all of them are on board," Gregory says, adding that law enforcement is well aware of the dangers of prescription drug abuse. "They're the ones that come in contact with it first."

Anyone is welcome to turn in pills, no questions asked. "The pills can be left in their original containers with labels attached," Gregory says. "No information is being obtained from the containers, and the pills collected will be in the custody of law enforcement officials until their incineration."

After the first Take Back Day, Congress passed legislation to amend the Controlled Substances Act and President Obama signed the Safe and Secure Drug Disposal Act, allowing the DEA to develop a process for people to safely get rid ounused prescription drugs. Until that process is complete, the agency will continue to offer Prescription Drug Take Back Days every six months.

Disposing of prescription drugs

Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. DO NOT FLUSH any medication unless the instructions specifically say so.

If there is not a drug take-back program available in your area, follow these steps to safely dispose of medication:

Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.

Put them in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.

Before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable. This will help protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information.

Do not give medications to friends. Doctors prescribe drugs based on a person's specific symptoms and medical history. A drug that works for you could be dangerous for someone else.

When in doubt about proper disposal, talk to your pharmacist to reduce the chance of unintentional use or overdose and illegal abuse.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration

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