WebMD BlogsWebMD Interviews

April 27 is National Drug Take-Back Day

open pill bottle
April 25, 2019
From the WebMD Archives

Americans fill about 4.5 billion prescriptions each year, including more than 190 million opioid prescriptions. Many of these drugs expire or are unused. They sit in medicine cabinets, where they could be misused or abused. Two-thirds of Americans say they don't know how to safely get rid of their unused or expired medications, according to one survey.

To provide a safe place for Americans to dispose of their medicines, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will host its annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on April 27, 2019. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can take your drugs to one of the DEA's more than 5,500 registered collection sites around the country.

Douglas Throckmorton, MD, deputy director for Regulatory Programs at the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, explains how not disposing of your drugs puts your family at risk, and how to safely get rid of any drugs you don't use.

Why is it so important to properly dispose of unused drugs?

When drugs are not disposed of properly, children, elderly people, and pets can get access to those medicines and the results can be tragic. The second problem is intentional misuse and abuse. People can go through medicine cabinets and take prescription drugs, which they then sell or abuse. You can prevent these two outcomes by disposing of medicines properly.

What special concerns are there in getting rid of opioids?

Opioids are powerful and potentially lethal drugs. They can kill with a single dose in some people. On the FDA’s website, we have a list of drugs that are on our "Flush list." Many of the drugs on that list are opioids. They need to be removed from your home immediately if you're not using them.

How do I know if a drug is an opioid?

The easiest way is to ask a pharmacist. They're trained to get you that kind of information.

Drugs are expensive. If I throw them away, I'll waste money. Shouldn't I keep them in case I need them in the future?

You need to throw out drugs for a few reasons. One, if it is diverted, like an opioid, it can harm someone who gets hold of it who shouldn't be taking it. Two, as time goes on and pills sit in the medicine cabinet in your bathroom, the amount of medicine in the pill starts going down. At some point the medicine stops working or potentially could have something unsafe in it. I understand why it's attractive to hold on to medicines, but by doing that, you could end up with a pill that isn't working or that could make you sick.

What are the safest ways to get rid of unused medicines?

Bring those drugs to a take-back program and have them disposed of properly. If a drug take-back program isn't available in your area, most medicines can be mixed into used coffee grounds, cat litter, and other unattractive things and put into the trash. For the very small number of drugs on our “flush list” we recommend that you flush them down the toilet when they are no longer needed.

What kinds of drugs can I bring?

You can bring in prescription or over-the-counter pills or patches.

Which drugs are not accepted?

Liquids, drugs with needles, and illegal drugs are not accepted.

Is drug take-back confidential?

Yes. It's completely anonymous. Your drugs will be placed into a bag and sealed up, no questions asked. If you're concerned about having your personal information on the bottle, remove the label before you drop off the drugs, or put the pills into a different container.

Where can I take my unused drugs on other days?

Check the DEA's searchable database of drug disposal sites around the country for a drop-off location near you.

What does the DEA do with the drugs it collects?

The drugs are sent to an incinerator and burned up.

How many drugs have been collected since the program started?

Since the program started in 2010, it has collected nearly 11 million pounds of drugs.

What is the Remove the Risk Campaign?

This campaign is part of the work the FDA is doing to address the opioid crisis. The goal is to dispose of unused opioids and get them out of the home. Having them at home can create a serious health risk, especially if teens or children live with or visit you.

Remove the Risk will include public service announcements in doctor's offices and supermarkets, fact sheets, social media graphics, and articles. The campaign will spread the message that just putting medicines into the medicine cabinet and leaving them there could pose a risk.

We want to encourage people to go through their medicine cabinet, to see if there are drugs they don't need anymore. And if they identify unneeded drugs, to get rid of them as soon as they possibly can.

WebMD Blog


CDC: "U.S. Opioid Prescribing Rate Maps."

EPA: “How to Dispose of Medicines Properly.”

Kaiser Health News: "Graphic: Opioid Painkiller is Top Prescription in 10 States."

Katherine Pfaff, DEA Media

Sharps Compliance, Inc.: "Two-Thirds of Americans Improperly Dispose of Medication."

Douglas Throckmorton, MD, deputy director for Regulatory Programs, FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

More from the WebMD Interviews Blog

  • photo of coronavirus el paso

    El Paso COVID Surge: 'It's Just Constant'

    With nearly 30,000 active COVID-19 cases and a test positivity rate of 20% according to the city's dashboard, El Paso, TX,  is averaging about 1,000 new cases a day.

  • coronavirus vaccine

    CDC’s Messonnier Says She Trusts COVID Vaccine Process

    Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, talks about the COVID vaccine rollout and having flu season in the middle of a pandemic.

View all posts on WebMD Interviews

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More