The estimated amount of unused prescription medicines in upstate New Yorkers’ medicine cabinets is enough to cover nine regulation football fields, according to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield experts who today urged residents to join a national effort to properly dispose of the drugs.
National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is Saturday, April 30. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield supports the efforts of local law enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration in their attempts to draw attention to the risks posed by having potentially dangerous, expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs lying around in residents’ homes.
According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more Americans currently abuse prescription drugs than the number of Americans who use cocaine, hallucinogens and heroin combined. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America reports that each day, approximately 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family, friends and home medicine cabinets.
In addition, it’s advised that the usual methods of disposing unused medicines — flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash — pose potential safety and health hazards.
“Often we find that when unused medications are flushed down the toilet, they end up in rivers and streams and ultimately the water supply, because most water treatment plants do not have the capacity to remove many of the compounds,” stated Joel Owerbach, Pharm.D., vice president and chief pharmacy officer, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “The only way to avoid that problem is to appropriately dispose of unwanted medications before they ever get in the water,” he added.
The DEA will have more than 334 locations across New York state available for the public to dispose of unwanted prescription drugs on April 30. The service is free and anonymous, and no questions are asked. For more information and to find a collection site near you, visit www.dea.gov, click “Got Drugs?” and enter your ZIP code.
During its inaugural National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day in September 2010, the DEA collected more than 121 tons of prescription drugs at nearly 4,100 collection sites across the country.
Owerbach said pharmacy experts estimate that between 10 percent and 30 percent of prescription medicines aren’t used and pose hazards that can be avoided by taking proper steps. “We estimate that among the 39 upstate New York counties we looked at, each year a little more than 65 million prescriptions are filled (the equivalent of about 3.2 billion tablets),” Owerbach said. “If about 20 percent of tablets aren’t used, we estimate that the waste would add up to more than 200 tons of medicine or more than 4,000 miles of pills.”
“If that visual seems shocking, we intended it to be. The hazards posed by that volume are very real, and there’s a simple solution that anyone can follow to help properly dispose of unused medications.”