Op-Ed

How to safely dispose of prescription drugs this Saturday

This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York.
This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. AP

As a community leader and a researcher, we are deeply concerned about public health and the toll of the nation's opioid crisis. The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health tells us that 53 percent of people who take prescription opioids for non-medical use get them from friends or family. As we approach National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, April 28, we want to encourage everyone to safely dispose of unused prescription opioids and other prescription medicine.

Safe disposal is a critical step to ensuring powerful prescription opioids do not end up into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Safe disposal programs are supported by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. It seems straight forward: get unneeded medication out of your medicine cabinet. But far too often, unused pills are left accessible to those seeking to abuse them. Unused medications can also become a household danger when consumed accidentally, resulting in calls to poison control centers, hospitalization and even death. It is our hope that through properly disposing of prescription drugs we can help saves lives.

A good way to properly dispose of prescription opioids is take them to a drug take back program in your area. These are often found at local law enforcement stations and pharmacies. The DEA offers a helpful locater to find your nearest collection site.

Project Lazarus, with the support of Purdue Pharma, launched the North Carolina Disposal Initiative to offer community organizations across the state safe and convenient means of disposing of prescription drugs. In the Spring of 2017, this program supported 60 medicine take-back events, and installed more than three dozen new permanent drop boxes across the state which generated significant results. From April 2016 to April 2017, North Carolina increased the total weight of collections from 15,449 pounds to 26,420 pounds, an increase of nearly 11,000 pounds. This increase outpaced all surrounding states. This success translates to fewer unused drugs in medicine cabinets that pose a threat to our communities.

If a take back program is not available in your area, unused medicine can be disposed of in the trash by mixing the pills with an unpalatable substance like used coffee grounds or kitty litter and placing them in a sealed bag. The information received from a pharmacy along with your prescription, sometimes called a Medication Guide, may also provide disposal instructions.

No one solution will end the opioid crisis, but multiple overlapping efforts will drive positive change. That’s why Purdue Pharma, a company founded by physicians, has committed to supporting Project Lazarus. Embracing safe disposal of opioids is one step in addressing the crisis. We hope you will participate in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day and spread the word to your friends, colleagues and neighbors. Together we can make safe disposal a habit and prevent opioid abuse.

Fred Wells Brason II is President and Chief Executive Officer of Project Lazarus. Thomas Alfieri, PhD is Director of Medical Affairs Strategic Research at Purdue Pharma.
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