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What’s in Your Medicine Cabinet?

Proper disposal of unused prescription drugs can help prevent accidental overdose and opioid abuse and misuse. According to a 2017 review of multiple studies, 92% of people prescribed opioids did not use the entire prescription, and 3 out of 4 people did not store unused opioids in a locked cabinet. The Drug Abuse Warning Network estimates more than 22,000 children below the age of 5 were taken to emergency rooms for accidental overdose of prescription medications between 2004 and 2011.

The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found almost 19 million Americans over the age of 12 had misused or abused prescription medications in the past year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of those that abuse prescription opioids get them from someone they know. It is the responsibility of all of us to store medications safely and securely to help prevent abuse and accidental overdose.

The first step is identifying any unused or expired prescription medications you have. Don’t forget to look in bedside drawers, your car glovebox, old purses and anywhere else you may have stored some extra pills in case needed. Once you are ready to get rid of your old medication, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recommends bringing unused medications to a local drug take back location. These are business’ that are registered with the DEA for the public to bring unused drugs for proper disposal. For a location near you, go to or call (800) 882-9539.

If a take-back location is not available to you, check the prescription drug labeling for proper disposal. A few medications, primarily certain opioids and benzodiazepines, are recommended to be flushed down the toilet. There are a number of medications included in this list, which can be found at Although it may feel wrong to flush medications down the toilet, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes the risk of known increased harm to humans due to accidental exposure to these medications outweighs the risk to humans or the environment from flushing the medications. According to the FDA, the main way drug residues enter our water system is through humans naturally passing them through their bodies. However, to minimize the risk to humans and the environment, only the medications listed on the FDA website should be flushed.

If no specific disposal instruction is given, you can follow these few steps to ensure proper disposal:

1. Mix medications in an undesirable substance such as coffee grounds, liquid dish soap, dirt or kitty litter. You do not need to crush tablets or capsules.

2. Place in sealed plastic bag.

3. Throw into trash bin at home.

4. Remove or black out with marker any personal information on the prescription label and packaging, then place empty container in trash or recycle bin.

Remember, it is up to all of us to properly dispose of our medications. Routinely taking inventory and disposing of any unused or expired medications can help keep our household, and our communities safe.

Victoria Tweedy, FNP, NP-C Victoria Tweedy is a Family Nurse Practitioner that has worked in pain management since 2010. She brings over 29 years’ experience in the medical profession to the NovaSpine Pain Institute team. She has worked in many areas of medicine including cardiac telemetry, critical care and hospice care in both inpatient and home settings. It was in these settings she learned the importance of the gift of compassionate care and pain relief. In addition to medication management, Victoria is experienced in other forms of pain relief, including joint injections and trigger point injections. When not in the office she spends time with her family; son, daughter, and husband of 27 years. In addition, she enjoys exercising and hiking, volunteering, reading and of course, shopping.

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