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Properly Dispose of Expired or Unused Medications

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By: Kara Malitsky, Pharm.D., R.Ph.
April 13, 2012

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has designated Saturday, April 28, as National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.  The event is designed to provide a convenient and responsible way for individuals to dispose of expired and unused drugs.

Why is it important to raise our awareness about expired and unused prescriptions? 

Many people have outdated or unused medications in their medicine cabinet or elsewhere in their home.  Often, those old medications are being kept for future use, or are simply forgotten after an illness passes.

But keeping old and unused medications can lead to some serious problems.  Taking medications after they expire may be ineffective, and may even be dangerous, because the chemical makeup and potency of drugs can change over time.

Unused medications can also fall into the wrong hands and provide an easy source for those who may be seeking to abuse drugs.  More than 7 million Americans currently abuse prescription drugs, according to the 2010 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Also, the Partnership for a Drug Free America reports that each day, nearly 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time.  Studies show that in many cases, the prescription drugs these teens abuse are obtained from family and friends.

It is important to note that much younger children are being affected, too.  A study by the Journal of Pediatrics reports a 30 percent increase in emergency room visits for children under age five due to medication poisoning for the period 2001 to 2008.  Proper disposal of unused medications can help to decrease such occurrences.

Compounding the problem is the question of how to dispose of these medications.  The methods that most people use – flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash – may pose safety, health and environmental hazards.

What should you do with unused medications?

During National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday, April 28, the DEA is expected to have more than 25 locations across northeastern and north central Pennsylvania available for the public to drop off unwanted prescription drugs.  The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.

For more information and to find a collection site near you, visit, click on the “Got Drugs?” banner and enter your zip code.

In conjunction with law enforcement agencies across the country, the DEA previously conducted National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days in September 2010 and in April and October 2011.  Nationwide, nearly 1,000,000 pounds of medications have been removed from circulation through these three previous events.

Don’t take chances with your expired medications.  Take advantage of this opportunity to dispose of them properly on April 28.

Kara Malitsky, Pharm.D., R.Ph., is the Director of Pharmacy at Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.