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Leftover Medications Fuel Addiction Epidemic

Some people "steal" leftover medications to use or sell to others.

Between 1999 and 2014, prescription opioid sales nearly quadrupled, with adults over 40 representing the most likely demographic to use pain pills prescribed by their doctor. During this time, overdose deaths due to opioid abuse increased fourfold as well. While research strongly suggests some prescription opioid addicts turn to heroin when they can no longer obtain physician-provided scripts, other evidence exists that many opioid abusers become addicts when they find expired pain pill medications lying around their parent’s or other relative’s home.

Why Proper Disposal of Prescription Medication Can Help Reduce Opioid Addiction Rates

Unintentional medication deaths increased over 10% from 1999 to 2009, with over 90 percent of these deaths resulting from pain medication overdose. Opioid prescription medications are often kept longer than necessary because the patient doesn’t know how to dispose of them properly or simply forgets the bottle is sitting among dozens of other medication bottles in their bathroom cabinet. Opioid/heroin addicts suffering withdrawal symptoms will search anyone’s cabinets for pain medications that won’t be missed. In addition, the potential for an adolescent to “experiment” with drugs by taking their parent’s forgotten pain medication is extremely high.

What Exactly Do Prescription Opioid Expiration Dates Mean?

Medications with expired dates stamped on them effectiveness. Expiration dates indicate how long the manufacturer expects the drug will offer full potency compared to possible reduced potency. In fact, ongoing studies on both older and newer prescription opioids typically find these powerful painkillers retain more than half their potency several years after the time indicated by an expiration date.

Can Some Expired Medications Be Dangerous to Consume?

Antibiotics should never be taken after the expiration date printed on the package. Degradation into other chemicals can occur in outdated antibiotics because of their antibacterial activity. For the most part, expired prescription and non-prescription medications devolve naturally into less potent substances that eventually lose their effectiveness altogether.

How to Dispose of Prescription Medications

The FDA recommends taking advantage of authorized collectors affiliated with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency or finding medication take-back programs in your vicinity. Authorized medication collection sites operating in most communities include pharmacies, hospitals and law enforcement agencies. The DEA’s Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center offers assistance for locating authorized collectors in your area.

When mail-back or take-back programs are not available, follow these instructions to dispose of prescription medications that you no longer use:

  • Mix medication (do not crush capsules or tablets) with unpalatable materials such as dirt, clumping kitty litter, used coffee grounds, etc.
  • Put the mixture in sealable plastic baggies and throw the baggies into your regular trash.
  • Remember to make personal information contained on prescription bottle labels unreadable before throwing out empty containers

Drugs that can be safely flushed down the toilet or sink include:

  • Fentanyl
  • Buprenorphine hydrochloride
  • Diazepam
  • Methadone hydrochloride
  • Morphine sulfate
  • Oxymorphone hydrochloride

For a complete list of flushable medications, visit the FDA webpage listing all medications recommended for disposal by flushing.




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