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What’s the best way to dispose of my medications?

Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem nationwide. An estimated 2.1 million Americans used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes (for example, to get high) for the first time in the last year, 30% of them adolescents.  That means about 5,750 people use prescription medications inappropriately for the first time EVERY DAY!

In Wayne County, there were 817 drug-related deaths in 2016, an increase of 61.5% from 2015.  32.5% of those deaths were young people between the ages of 18 and 34.  Many of these people accidentally overdosed on prescription medications.  Others became addicted to these medications, then moved on to heroin and other drugs purchased illegally.  Most of the time these medications were taken from medicine cabinets at home, or from their friends.

Therefore, it is important to guard prescription medications carefully:  storing and disposing of them safely.

Storage Tips:

  • Keep all medications in one place. If there are youth in the home, or anyone who may misuse the medications, consider keeping them locked up.  Having a lock box, or keeping them in a locked drawer or closet are options.  Make sure you keep the key safe too!
  • Make sure they remain cool and dry. Bathrooms are NOT good storage places for medications, though they are great for bandages and other first aid supplies.
  • Take medications as prescribed, and finish prescriptions as directed.
  • Throw out all old medications, expired medications, those that you aren’t taking anymore, and old eye drops and ear drops.
  • Do not save medications “in case”, or for the future.

Disposal Tips:

  • Remove pills from their containers.
  • To prevent diversion of the pills, mix them with something undesirable, such as kitty litter, coffee grounds, or other food waste, which will help dissolve them.
  • Put this mixture into an opaque bag, such as a shopping bag, then tie it up and put it into your usual trash bag.
  • Pour liquid medications out into the sink or toilet.
  • Blacken or scratch out the information on the pill bottles. This prevents people from calling in refills of your medications, or using your information for identity theft.
  • Throw the bottles into your regular trash.
  • DWMHA has provided participating Wayne County Law enforcement agencies with Drug Take Back Drop Boxes for residents to dispose of medication, securely and safely with no questions asked. Boxes are currently located at Inkster and Sumpter Township stations.  More departments are expected to participate.
  • Look for other drug “take-back” programs, often found at pharmacies and participating community organizations.

I am not a fan of throwing pills into the toilet or sink, because I have concerns about the effect on the water table by lots of chemicals, but it is better than simply throwing bottles with medication into the trash.

Dr. Carmen McIntyre is chief medical officer at De­troit Wayne Mental Health Authority. If you have a ques­tion for Dr. McIntyre, please submit it to AskTheDr@dwm­ha.com

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