Piles of pills: Drug take back day highlights issue

Photo: Pixabay, MGN

Drug take-back programs have popped up all across the country over the past several years.

This started at a time when teenagers and children were abusing pills left in the medicine cabinet by their parents.

Now, with President Donald Trump declaring prescription pill opioid medication a national epidemic, these programs take on a much greater significance.

The idea is simply to get unused pills out of homes.

While these programs have had empirical success, that success highlights exactly what the issue is: prescription medications are too bountiful.

Take-back programs are typically just once, maybe twice a year. Because of this, drugs tend to pile up for a long time before being disposed of, according to pharmacist Pat Person.

"We had a couple drug take-back days," said Person. "One time, a guy brought in $35,000 worth of drugs he couldn't use because a mail-order pharmacy just kept sending them."

Results like this are seen at take-back locations everywhere.

Oct. 28, the Drug Enforcement Agency promoted a nationwide drug take-back day in which local law enforcement agencies collected any prescription drugs the public wanted to relinquish.

The results in Kern County were staggering:

  • Bakersfield police: 1,162 pounds of medication
  • Tehachapi police: 160 pounds of medication
  • Kern County Sheriff and Taft police: 257 pounds of medication

These numbers show how much prescription medication is floating around out there. It takes about 1,000 pills to make a pound, which means more than a million pills were turned in last week.

The mere fact that many pills were out there in the first place shows the problem the president has addressed in real.

It also shows while these take-back days are successful. They also promote the bad behavior of holding on to old pills until there is a set day to get rid of them.

To combat this, many pharmacies, while they won't dispose of the drugs, will provide you with a safe disposal bag with three easy steps:

  1. Put the pills in the bag.
  2. Fill the bag with water.
  3. Throw the bag in the trash.

These bags make the pills unusable. It is also safer than flushing pills down the toilet, because when you do that trace amounts of medication can end up in drinking water.

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