Prescription drugs are now the second most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other drugs.

Some of the abuse occurs when the prescription holder uses a drug for a purpose other than why it was prescribed.  Another aspect of the prescription drug abuse problem is because large numbers of teenage children are stealing drugs from a parent or other family member and then using, or selling, the drugs.  An additional, although smaller, aspect of this drug abuse problem develops from poor or improper disposal of prescription drugs.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say just three small steps can make a huge difference:

1. DO NOT FLUSH unused medications — Consumers were once advised to flush their expired or unused medications.  However, recent environmental impact studies report that this could be having an adverse impact on the environment because waste treatment systems are unable to remove the drug before discharging into waterways.

While the rule of thumb is not to flush, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended that certain medications should be flushed due to their abuse potential — those drugs are:

  • Actiq (fentanyl citrate)
  • Daytrana Transdermal Patch (methylphenidate)
  • Duragesic Transdermal System (fentanyl)
  • OxyContin Tablets (oxycodone)
  • Avinza Capsules (morphine sulfate)
  • Baraclude Tablets (entecavir)
  • Reyataz Capsules (atazanavir sulfate)
  • Tequin Tablets (gatifloxacin)
  • Zerit for Oral Solution (stavudine)
  • Meperidine HCl Tablets
  • Percocet (Oxycodone and Acetaminophen)
  • Xyrem (Sodium Oxybate)
  • Fentora (fentanyl buccal tablet)

2. When tossing unused medications, protect children and pets from potentially harmful effects.  APHA recommends that consumers:

  • Crush solid medications or dissolve them in water (this applies for liquid medications as well) and mix with kitty litter or sawdust (or any material that absorbs the dissolved medication and makes it less appealing for pets or children to eat), then place in a sealed plastic bag BEFORE tossing in the trash.
  • Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information (prescription label) from the medication container.
  • Check for approved state and local collection programs or with area hazardous waste facilities. In certain states, you may be able to take your unused medications to your community pharmacy.

3.  Talk To Your Pharmacist —  Pharmacists are one of the most accessible healthcare professionals.  As the medication experts on your healthcare team, pharmacists are available to guide you on safe prescription drug disposal for expired or items you no longer need.

Following the above simple steps can help protect your family and community, minimize a potential negative impact on the environment, and prevent the illegal diversion of unused medications.