Help Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse: Ask Mom and Dad To Clean Out the Medicine Cabinet

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National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

The Drug Enforcement Administration, in conjunction with state and local law enforcement agencies, is hosting the 4th National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on April 28 to provide places within local communities for people to dispose of unwanted and unused prescription drugs. Visit the Web site for more information and collection sites near you.

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are among the most commonly abused drugs by high school seniors. Many teens think that abusing prescription drugs like Adderall or Vicodin is safe because they are medications prescribed by doctors.

That’s not true—prescription drugs that are not taken as prescribed can have powerful and dangerous effects on the brain and body. When doctors prescribe medication for a patient, they have taken into account that person’s age, body weight, other health conditions, and other medications or supplements.

Taking someone else’s prescription, like Adderall, can cause irregular heart beat and seizures; and abusing pain medicine like Vicodin can restrict breathing. Prescription pain relievers, stimulants, and antidepressants can all have serious side effects if abused—that is, taken in ways or for a reason or by a person not intended by the prescription.

How Teens Find Prescription Drugs To Abuse

In the 2011 Monitoring the Future study, high school seniors reported that they got most of the prescription drugs they abused from friends and relatives, sometimes without their knowledge. It’s important for families to keep their prescription drugs in a secure place—and remove any expired, unwanted, or unused medications, so that your friends and younger siblings (and even pets) cannot get hold of them.

Most drugs can be thrown out in the household trash, but your parents should take certain precautions before doing that. Here are a few tips from the Food and Drug Administration for disposing of over-the-counter and prescription medications.

  • Read the Label

Follow all disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that comes with the medication.

  • Find a Medicine Take-Back Program

Medicine take-back programs will safely dispose of medication for you. Contact your city or county government’s trash and recycling service—or your local pharmacist—to find out if there is a take-back program near you. Another option is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. Local law enforcement and community partners offer thousands of take-back sites nationwide to collect unwanted medicines a few times each year.

  • Seal it Up and Throw it Away

If no instructions are available on the drug label and your community doesn’t have a medication take-back program, you can throw away prescription drugs in your household trash. Follow these three simple steps:

1. Mix medicine—do NOT crush it—with something gross, like used kitty litter or coffee grounds.

2. Place the mixture in a closed container, such as a sealed plastic bag, to prevent leaking.

3. Put the container in the trash.

  • Flush It

A small number of medications are so harmful and dangerous that it’s best to flush them down the sink or toilet to prevent accidental use by children or pets. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless the label instructions specifically tell you to do so. View a list of medicines that should be flushed.

Throwing away unused medicine is just one way to help prevent prescription drug abuse. Check out NIDA’s PEERx Activity Guide for some fun ideas and step-by-step instructions for mobilizing your peers in creative ways. If you have other ideas, let us know in the comments.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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