More people abuse prescription drugs in the United States than cocaine, heroin and hallucinogenic drugs combined, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Other studies show that people who abuse prescription drugs often get them from home medicine cabinets, which may have medications left over from previous prescriptions.
There are other dangers besides the medicine getting into the wrong hands. Some elderly people may get confused by the multiple medications in their cabinets and some people could develop a resistance to antibiotics by attempting to self-medicate with out-of-date pills.
Many Americans don't know how to dispose of unused medications -- many just throw them away or flush them down the toilet, which could lead to potential safety and health hazards, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Medications will be labeled if they can safely be flushed down the toilet.
Because of the many dangers that keeping unwanted medications in the home can cause, the DEA announced a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day for Saturday, April 30. More than 5,100 sites across the nation have been set up for people to bring unwanted medications. The supervisors at the sites will dispose of the drugs safely.
Although people are expected to bring large amounts of unwanted drugs at the event (at the last one, in September 2010, over 242,000 pounds were turned in) it's only planned for one day. In the meantime, the FDA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy suggest safe ways to dispose of unwanted prescriptions.
Federal Guidelines for Disposal
Take the prescription drugs out of the original containers.
Mix drugs with something like coffee grounds or cat litter. This way the medication will be less appealing to children, pets, and others who may look for medication in the garbage.
Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub or into a sealable bag.
Conceal or remove any personal information, including the Rx number.
Place the sealed container in the trash.
Other Tips From Dr. Richard Besser
Once a year, go through your medicine cabinet and get rid of drugs that have expired, prescriptions you never finished, and any prescription pain medicines.
Check to see if any of your over-the-counter medications have been recalled.
One of the major causes of drug-resistant infections is antibiotic misuse. People sometimes take prescription antibiotics that they had in their medicine cabinets from a previous infection. You may not need an antibiotic, and you put yourself at risk by taking drugs when you don't need them.