National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day will be observed locally and nationwide April 27. Sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the day is specifically set aside to allow an opportunity to empty medicine cabinets, kitchen drawers, purses and pillboxes of unwanted, unused and expired prescription drugs, and take them to authorized collection sites in local communities.
Drug overdoses and brain damage linked to long-term drug abuse killed an estimated 37,485 people in 2009, the latest year for which preliminary data are available, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Drugs now kill more people than motor vehicle accidents in the U.S.," said Maj. Clifton Dabbs, a physician and epidemiologist at the U.S. Army Public Health Command.
Prescription drug use has increased over the years in the military. About 17 percent of military personnel reported misusing prescription drugs, including stimulants (other than methamphetamine), tranquilizers/muscle relaxers, sedatives/barbiturates, pain relievers, anabolic steroids, and erectile dysfunction drugs, according to the 2008 Department of Defense Survey of Health-Related Behaviors.
As in the civilian population, pain relievers were the most commonly misused/abused type of prescription drug across the military services and in the Army specifically.
According to the 2011 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 70 percent of people abusing prescription pain relievers got them through friends or relatives, a statistic that includes raiding the family medicine cabinet.
Dabbs said that the abuse of opiates is becoming more prevalent across the Army.
"Our surveillance shows that there is a rapid increase in the numbers of Soldiers being diagnosed with opiate dependence or abuse since 2005," said Dabbs.
Opiate drugs are narcotic sedatives that depress activity of the central nervous system, reduce pain and induce sleep. When misused, opiates can become deadly.
"Opiates act centrally on the nervous system and can actually suppress your ability to breathe," said Dabbs.
For this reason, it is important to get rid of painkillers as soon as possible.
"It is highly recommended to flush any narcotic pain killer down the toilet when they are no longer needed for the treatment of pain in which they were prescribed," said Dabbs. "This is because the risk of someone stealing them, taking them by accident, and or the temptation to use them recreationally when drinking is too high and the consequences can be deadly," said Dabbs.
While flushing is not a recommended disposal method for many drugs, Dabbs' advice about opiates is seconded by authorities such as the Food and Drug Administration.
Dabbs also pointed out that drugs can lose potency and effectiveness if they are stored improperly or kept too long.
Since the opportunity to dispose of unwanted and expired medications comes around only once a year, Dabbs thinks it's an opportunity that should be seized.
"In the interests of both health and safety, it's best to rid homes and barracks of unneeded prescriptions," Dabbs said. "Disposing of old prescriptions through the take-back program removes the risk of misuse and precludes accidental overdose by children or pets."
For personnel who are unable to visit an authorized collection site, the Food and Drug Administration recommends disposing of prescription medication by taking the medication out of its original container and mixing with kitty litter or used coffee grounds, then double bagging the item, and putting out with the trash.
Past Prescription Drug Take Back-Days have been very successful, according to the DEA. On Sept. 29, 2012, more than 488,000 pounds of unwanted or expired medication was collected at 5,263 take-back sites.