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Protecting Our Environment and Our Health: Earth Day + National Take-Back Day

Is your medicine cabinet filled with old bottles of half-used prescriptions? They might seem harmless, but that medicine can spell disaster if misused, and disposing of prescription drugs the wrong way can harm our Nation’s water supply and our environment. That’s why today on Earth Day, we want to encourage you to participate in Take Back Day on April 27th to get rid of old medications and keep your family, and the planet, safe.   

Clean out your medicine cabinet

A medicine cabinet full of unneeded or expired medicine poses a risk to your loved ones, especially young people. In 2010, prescription drugs were involved in over 22,000 deaths. Of those, over 16,000 involved opioid painkillers like Vicodin® and OxyContin®.[1]

In the United States, more people die from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin or cocaine overdoses —combined.[2]

According to a recent Monitoring the Future study – the Nation's largest survey of drug use among young people – prescription drugs are the third-most abused category of drugs after marijuana. In addition, the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that over 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers in the past year got them from friends or relatives the last time they used them.[3] Over 50 percent of teens in a 2008 survey said it was easy to get prescription medications from their parent’s medicine cabinet.[4] Getting rid of those old medicines is an easy step you can take to remove a temptation—and maybe save a life.

Be careful about the medicines you flush

You might think flushing all your old pills down the toilet is the best way to dispose of them, but that’s not necessarily true. Medicines that go down the drain end up in our water supply, where they can damage the environment and harm animals.[5] We don’t know if these drugs in the water supply might also harm people, but experts believe antibiotics in the water might make it harder to treat certain pathogens in the future.[6] To make sure, visit the FDA’s page on safe drug disposal guidelines to find out which medicines they recommend flushing.

President Obama and the White House Council on Environmental Quality are committed to clean water, and want to reduce contaminants in drinking water, including contamination from improperly disposed medications. So we’re encouraging everyone to participate in the Sixth National Drug Take-Back Day on April 27. On Take Back Day, local law enforcement and community groups team up with the Drug Enforcement Administration to collect unused medications so they can be disposed of safely. Visit the Take Back Day website to find a collection site near you.

Safe medication disposal tips

Can’t make it to Take Back Day? Here is how to dispose of prescription drugs safely:

  • If there are no specific disposal instructions on the medication, take it out of its original container and mix it with an undesirable substance like coffee grounds or cat litter to discourage people and animals.
  • Place the mixture in a sealable bag and put it in the trash.
  • To protect your privacy, before throwing out a medicine container, scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.