Cleaning Out the Cabinet


From social media campaigns to TV spots, poison centers across the country are spreading the word about safe drug disposal.

By Kate H. Gamble

Prescription drug safety will take center stage when the US Drug Enforcement Administration holds its second National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday, April 30, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time. The program, which will occur at more than 5,100 sites nationwide, collects expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs that can be a potentially dangerous source of diversion if left in the home.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, medications were the leading cause of poisoning deaths in 2009, with antipsychotics, cardiovascular medications, opioids, and acetaminophen combinations identified as being most frequently associated with poison-related deaths. A 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that more Americans currently abuse prescription drugs than abuse cocaine, hallucinogens and heroin combined. The public can help eliminate drugs that are highly susceptible to misuse and abuse by safely disposing of expired, unused or unwanted prescription drugs, the Association stated in a press release.

A number of areas have had success with take-back programs, including the Texas Panhandle Poison Center in Amarillo, Texas. Since hold the first Medication Cleanout event in September 2009, officials at the center have collected almost 3,000 pounds and more than 20,000 containers of medications.

"More than half of the people that have brought unused medications to an event say that they would have kept the medications in their home if a medication take-back program was not available," said Ronica Farrar, educator with Texas Panhandle Poison Center and co-founder of Medication Cleanout. "By providing a method for people to get rid of the medicine they no longer need, we are preventing poisonings, abuse, and misuse while protecting the environment.

A number of other poison centers around the country are participating in local events, including the following:

  • The Upstate New York Poison Center is working with Walgreens pharmacies to host events at three Walgreens sites in the region.
  • Several centers are providing free educational materials including magnets and stickers to help support the event, including the Upstate New York Poison Center, Florida/USVI Poison Information Center-Jacksonville, the Florida Poison Information Network, the North Texas Poison Center; the Virginia Poison Center, the Blue Ridge Poison Center, and the National Capital Poison Center.
  • The Florida/USVI Poison Information Center-Jacksonville is also using its social media and grassroots networks to help individuals find the closest available collection site. The Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, meanwhile, is doing marketing for the event to local listservs, health clinics and to the media. And the Hennepin Regional Poison Center in Minnesota is doing public relations with local media for the event as well as highlighting AWARxE, a local program developed by the Minnesota Pharmacists Foundation that educates teens and adults about drug safety and the dangers of medication abuse.
  • The Washington Poison Center teamed up with the regional director for DEA and Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna for a TV appearance highlighting the importance of the event. That center will also send its "Mr. Yuk" mascot to a take-back site in Seattle.
  • The Nebraska Regional Poison Center, which also covers Wyoming, has sent out a press release highlighting the event, and poison center staff will be at a site in Omaha. Poison center staff also served on a committee that organized several take back sites around Nebraska. The Nebraska center also covers the Federated States of Micronesia, and has coordinated with public health officials in Micronesia to organize ongoing take-back events there.
  • The Utah Poison Control Center has worked closely with the local DEA to create advertising flyers for each event location, and is also working to provide pharmacy students to help sort medication at each event. The Utah Poison Control Center is using its interactive voice response telephone system to provide information about the take-back events around the state, including addresses of each location.
  • The North Texas Poison Center is supporting two sites in Tarrant County, including one being held in conjunction with the African American Health Expo.

Patients are encouraged to take advantage of the services being offered by poison control centers to facilitate the disposal of unused or expired medications.

"Poison centers are prepared to take calls about medication or anything else that can be harmful to you if taken the wrong way," said Jim Hirt, executive director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. "Poison centers are staffed with medical experts who are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer questions."

To find the nearest collection site, click here.

For more information, click on the links below:

  • Video: Drug Take Back Day
  • Waste Not, Want Not: Drug Disposal and the Role of the Pharmacist (CE)
  • State Prescription Drug Return, Reuse and Recycling Laws
  • How to Dispose of Unused Medicines

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