Injuries and deaths from prescription drug abuse, particularly opioids, have soared in recent years. More than 70 percent of teenagers say it is easy to get prescription drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets, according to a 2014 Partnership for Drug-Free Kids study.  Concerned by rising rates of prescription drug abuse, the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced that it would permit consumers to return unused prescription medications like opioid painkillers to pharmacies. Like the Take Back events, participation in the new program will be voluntary.  

The new regulation covers drugs designated as controlled substances and includes opioid painkillers like OxyContin, stimulants like Adderall, and depressants like Ativan. Under the new regulation, patients and their relatives are allowed to mail unused prescription drugs to an authorized collector using packaging made available at pharmacies. Pharmacies may choose to register with the D.E.A. to take back controlled substances or to receive leftovers through the mail. To minimize the risk that returned drugs might be stolen, the D.E.A. requires authorized collectors running mail-back programs to have and use an on-site method of destruction to destroy returned medications.

Until now, the Controlled Substances Act limited options for the disposal of controlled substances. Twice annually, consumers could anonymously return them to police departments during thousands of national “take back” events organized by the D.E.A. To date, these events have removed over 4.86 million pounds of prescription medications from circulation nationally.

The following items are returnable: prescription medicines; over the counter medicines; vitamins; pet medicines; medicated ointments and lotions; inhalers; liquid medicines in glass or leak-proof containers (up to 12 ounces); and medicine samples.

The following items are not returnable: needles, lancets, or syringes; thermometers; aerosol cans; empty containers; bloody or infectious waste; personal care products (i.e., non-medicated shampoo); hydrogen peroxide; and business waste. For advice on the safe disposal of these items, contact your pharmacist or local Health Department. You may also call 1-800-RECYCLE (1-800-732-9235).