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Drugs & Health Blog

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

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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.

Sara Bellum

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.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Sharing this one, love it! The label should read: Teach your children about prescription drugs, instead of keep out of reach of children!


The Summit was a wonderful experience! I learned more about the different kinds of drugs that are out there and the affects they can have on you.The summit taught me how drugs can really ruin people's lives,it made me have more realization on the amount of people that die due to drug abuse. Being apart of PeerX taught me the statistics on death of people that abuse perscription drugs.Being that prescription drug abuse is happening all around and we dont hear to much of how harmful it really is,i was surprisingly educted with how much of a big deal it really is.Thank you!

My Experience at the summit was more then just an experience it impacted my life tremendously . i learned alot met new people and alot of high class people that i thought id never meet. This Summit taught me plenty of things and made me even more proud of being in SADD. Through out this experience ive learned that no matter what type of pills you take theyre ALL going to be bad for you if you abuse them no matter what. NIDA is a website that can tell you alot about what teens do now a days and the videos they have are all true, that does happen in schools , students dont think bout the consequences they just think about the high and how great theyre going to feel when in reality its just harming them. This is when i come in and help out and spread the word to students my age or younger to not abuse pills to let them know that its not okay to take pills just because your stressed, your head hurts, your friends tell you to, or you see people doing it so you do it. NO its not how it works you do whats best for your life and if you choose your right path nothing will go wrong.

Thanks for this site.

i dont think that you people are right you need to go to school

I think if you still have medicine around the house, even if you ask your parents to clean out the medicine cabinet, there will still be temptations no matter what?

i know right people will just dig them out of the trash can Gross :(

You can also organize an RX take back event in your community. Host a day at a law enforcement agency where the public can return OTC and Prescription drugs that they have at home which are expired or unwanted. This method of collection keeps the meds out of the water supply and out of the hands of those who might abuse them.

I lost one of my twin sons to Oxycontin, the pain reliever. He had a therapeutic dose in his system, no alcohol. His death was due to the pain reliever causing an intoxication with his prescribed sedative, also at a therapeutic level. What makes my blood run cold is that people regularly abuse these two meds to get high, and then mistakenly believe that they are safe, that they won't take too much, that everyone does it, etc. We'll never know if he wanted to get high or just had a headache....Never borrow someone else's prescribed medication....that is one thing I have learned. It can be a deadly mistake.

Don't keep addictive drugs in your medicine cabinet. [commercial reference removed, per guidelines]

[commercial link removed, per guidelines]

And they want to make marijuana legalize.... well it will take the drugs from the black market but isn't it all about taxes and money?

Don't keep addictive drugs in your medicine cabinet. Get your parents to clean it out every so often.
wow, teens really doing some stupid stuff
come on america! don't be that stupid stop using drugs