Many people, for one reason or another, have been prescribed a controlled medication at some point in their life. It might have been Oxycontin after a painful surgery, Xanax for episodes of anxiety, Lunesta for trouble sleeping or Adderall for ADHD. As with many of the medications we take, there were probably a few pills left over that are now sitting in your medicine cabinet.
While having a few pills lying around in the bathroom may not seem like a big deal, more than half of the 41,000 deaths from drug overdose last year came from prescription drugs, and about one in three was related to opioid medications like Vicodin and Oxycontin. The number of deaths reflects increasing abuse of these medications. According to the National Institutes of Health, seven million Americans reported current nonmedical use of prescription drugs in 2009, which is more than the number using cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and inhalants combined.
As unlikely as it may seem, the pills in your cabinet and the rise of medication misuse are linked. These drugs can be dangerous in several ways. Having multiple pill bottles in a medicine cabinet can be confusing. Someone with poor eyesight or cognitive decline or who is just distracted at the wrong time may mistake one bottle for another, taking four pills of Xanax instead of Advil to quickly find themselves in trouble.
In other cases, these medications are found by those who intend to either abuse them or sell them. More than 70% of teenagers in one study, for example, said that prescription medications were easy to get from their parents’ medicine cabinets. Individuals may take these unsupervised medications to get high or sell them off to someone looking to pay a hefty price for the pills.
In a landmark move aimed at preventing the accidental and intentional abuse of controlled drugs, the Drug Enforcement Administration will allow those with leftover controlled substances to return them to pharmacies. Public locations like libraries and senior centers will also carry special envelopes that can be mailed in to agencies that can dispose of the drugs properly.
Drug collection is not a new idea. Many pharmacies will take back left over medications of various kinds. Due to their sensitive nature, controlled substances could not be returned in the same way. Those looking to get rid of those leftovers were restricted to drop-offs that occurred twice a year at specific locations. While millions of pounds of prescription medications have been collected at these pickups, the amount pales in comparison to the billions of prescriptions filled every year and the likely amount sitting in medicine cabinets across America.
The new rule comes into effect next month. Until then, the next disposal day for controlled medications is September 27. If you have other old, unused or expired medications around your house, consider trying to dispose of them to protect yourself and your family. Ask your pharmacist about medication disposal and check out the FDA’s website for more guidelines.