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Tough pill to swallow

Overdose deaths can be caused by unused prescription drugs

Among the unused or expired prescription drugs collected by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Prescription Take Back Day April 22 were thousands in New Jersey.

Since the biannual initiative began in 2010, the state has collected more than 350,000 pounds of medications, a number that amounts to about 185 tons. The nationwide collection netted 17 million pounds.

What most of us might not realize is that unused, expired prescriptions in the wrong hands can be a “gateway” to opioid addiction, a factor noted by DEA agent Daniel Kafafian in a recent edition of The Sun.

“Every pill removed from the home is an opportunity to prevent possible misuse of these prescriptions,” he said. CDC numbers show there were more than 100,000 deaths from drug overdose last year in the U.S. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that between 1999 and 2021, more than 100,000 people died from overdoses associated with opioid and other prescription drugs. In 2019 alone, more than 20 million people misused or abused them.

But what of unused or expired prescriptions? Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that about 14.3 million Americans – or 5.1% – reported misusing a prescription psychotherapeutic drug in the past 12 months. Misuse means taking a drug for a non-prescribed use, taking someone else’s prescription drug or using a medication to get high.

Besides prescriptions for opioids, the most misused drugs are stimulants such as those used to treat attention-deficit disorders, the institute reports, and central nervous system depressants like tranquilizers or sedatives meant to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.

Among the latter, benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax are highly addictive and can be fatal, especially when combined with alcohol or opioids, according to Science News. The number of overdose deaths from “benzos” went from 0.54 per 100,000 in 1999 to 5.02 in 2017, the site reported.

But Take Back Days are not the only avenue for getting rid of old drugs, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

  • Check with a pharmacist. Some pharmacies like CVS offer on-site medicine dropoff
    boxes, mail-back programs and other means of disposal.
  • Flush them. Many drugs have directions that say how to put them down the sink or toilet. The FDA has a list of medicines recommended for this disposal method.
  • Out with the garbage: Almost all medicines – except those on the aforementioned flush list – can be thrown into the household trash, including over-the-counter drugs in pill liquid, drop, patches and cream forms.

If you want to go the collection route, there are an estimated 5,000 dropoff spots across the country and in New Jersey that can be found at the DEA website, DEA.gov. They are also plentiful in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties, many associated with local police departments.

Find that list here: Pages – Drop Box Locations (njconsumeraffairs.gov) or call the state Division of Consumer Affairs at (800) 242-5846.

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