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Clean Out Your Medicine Cabinet

Safely dispose of unused and expired medications at a national 'Drug Take Back Day' location on October 26

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En español l If your medicine cabinet is filled with prescriptions and other medications you no longer use, Saturday, October 26, would be a good day to do some cleaning.

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On that day, at locations nationwide from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration will be collecting unneeded and expired medicines so they can be disposed of in a safe, legal and eco-friendly way.

For more information and to find a collection site near you (typically at a police station, firehouse, hospital or church), visit the DEA's National Take Back Initiative's website. (Select the "Start Over" button if the page has timed out.) You can also call 800-882-9539 (press 0 when prompted).

Prescriptions and over-the-counter "solid dosage" medications (i.e., tablets and caplets) will be accepted. Intravenous medicines, needles and illicit drugs, such as marijuana or methamphetamines, are not part of this program.

Participants do not need to give their names, and it's advisable to remove identifying information from any bottles or packages you turn in.

This national collection day is the seventh of its kind. Since the first national drug take-back event in September 2010, the DEA has collected more than 2.8 million pounds of unneeded medications.

Why you shouldn't toss meds in the trash or down the drain

If you're wondering why the DEA is involved, and why you shouldn't just toss your old prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs into the trash, sink or toilet, consider the following:

  • Pills that are put in the trash can be easily removed from the garbage by people seeking to illegally use or sell them.

  • Medications thrown in the trash can also be found and consumed by children or animals.

  • Chemicals and toxins from drugs that are disposed of into landfills, or down toilets and sinks, can escape into the ground and groundwater, polluting the environment and posing health hazards to humans, plants and wildlife.

Other ways to safely dispose of medicines

  • If you can't make it to the Oct. 26 event, you can find other pharmaceutical take-back options by visiting the website Earth911.com.

  • You can contact your state or local department of public works, health or environmental protection for information about how you can properly dispose of medications and medical supplies (such as used needles). Information is also available from SMARxT Disposal, which is a private-public partnership between pharmaceutical associations and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • The Do-It-Yourself Solution: Place your unneeded medications in a sealable plastic bag. Pills and tablets should be crushed or dissolved in a small amount of water, and water should be added to liquid medications to dilute their potency. You can mix coffee grounds, kitty litter, sawdust or a similar material into the bag to further degrade the medications. Seal the bag and place it in the trash.

Melissa Stanton is an editor at AARP.org.

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