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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is April 24.

While Take Back Day is focused on clearing out opioids from the home that are no longer needed or expired, the annual observance is also an opportunity to clean out other prescription medications.

Medications that have been discontinued, doses that have been changed and medications that are no longer needed are all items that can be dropped off at official collection sites.

Take Back Day has a special importance this April 24, 2021, because, during the pandemic, drug overdose deaths have dramatically increased.

Notice these figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“Synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) appear to be the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths, increasing 38.4% from the 12-month period leading up to June 2019, compared with the 12-month period leading up to May 2020.”

During this time, according to the CDC:

  • 37 of the 38 U.S. jurisdictions with available synthetic opioid data reported increases in synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths.
  • 18 of these jurisdictions reported increases greater than 50%.
  • 10 Western states reported a more than 98% increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths.

There is no reason to believe opioid-involved deaths will not continue to rise until we are back to some level of normal.

So, what can we do if we have prescription opioids in our home? Well, that depends.

If there are children and teens in the home, disposing of the medications after the pain issue has run its course and we no longer need the opioid pain reliever is particularly important.

We can check with the pharmacy to see if they have a give back program – or make use of the Take Back Day collection sites. The Take Back Day website has a collection site locator to find one near your home. There is also a link to a locator for year-round disposal sites.

If one chooses to keep the medication (for a “rainy day” pain), it should be stored in a safe location. Be sure to discuss such usage with your primary care provider, as well.

Also, it is important to note that some employers who do random drug screenings can fire a person who has opioids in their system without an active prescription.

When I worked as a substance abuse professional under the Department of Texas regulations, most of my clients came from people who had tested positive during such work-related screenings.

The clients ran the gambit of school bus drivers, cargo drivers, pipeline construction workers, airline pilots and folks who were employed by the railroads.

What you don’t want to do is flush them down the toilet, or simply throw them away without doing your research. These are powerful medications and need to be disposed of correctly.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does have guidance for select medications that can be flushed under certain circumstances, as well as guidance for disposing of medications in the trash can, the principle recommendation by the FDA is to use an approved drug disposal location because it is the safest and most secure method.

Opioids are addictive and, for that reason, have been restricted within the medical community to such a degree that many primary care providers choose to send their patients to pain management specialists.

The risks of addiction and the life derailed from that addiction are real. This means that patients should pay careful attention to the family history regarding alcoholism and addiction.

While what is in your bathroom medicine cabinet may never find their way into the hands of a child or teen in your home, the best way to prevent that from happening is to carefully use the prescribed medication and then dispose of it when the pain issue is resolved.

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