Date Published: 27 April 2018

Return of unwanted prescription drugs

Recent reports indicate that every day more than 115 people in the United States of America (USA) die after overdosing on opioids1, a category of substances whose use in pharmaceutical products is typically for pain relief, their effectiveness being attributed to opioids' effects on opioid receptors in the human nervous system.

This is just one of many alarming statistics about the opioid crisis associated with the misuse of this type of prescription medicine. In a recent article on its website2, the U.S. NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates various connections between prescribed opioids and opioid addition and/or overdose, including: 21-29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain 'misusing' them; 8-12% of patients prescribed opioids developing an opioid use disorder; and an estimated 80% of heroin users having previously misused prescription opiods.

This is a strong, although not the only, reason to review personal supplies of medications and to remove unwanted medicines and discard them safely. Another important concern is the potential environmental impact of drugs or other chemicals being disposed of inappropriately.

Saturday 28 April 2018 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day in the USA. Last year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported that 456 tons of prescriptions were surrendered. Once again people are being encouraged to check their kitchens, cupboards, medicine boxes and any other places in which unwanted or expired medicines might have been stored in the home.

The locations of the thousands of drop-off sites that have been made available across the USA are indicated on the DEA website and via public information services made available by Google at

The American Medical Association (AMA) also highlighted some of the reasons why it is important to return unwanted and expired prescription medications in a recent statement on its website3.

In the AMA release urging participation in 'National Prescription Drug Take Back Day' the chair of the Opiod Task Force, Dr Patrice A. Harris, said:

" From our studies of the opioid epidemic, we know that more than 70% of people misusing opioids are getting them from family and friends. We need to prevent this, and the best way is for patients to turn in unused opioids as well as all their unused prescription medications."

She went on to encourage medical practitioners to talk with patients about the contents of their medical cabinets and what actions they can take to reduce the possibility of the misuse of any prescription drugs in their possession.

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