The family medicine cabinet can be a death trap.

Old prescriptions for dad’s back spasms, mom’s sleeping pills, and a grab-bag of other leftover medications can be a temptation for curious teens. Sometimes, this ends in an overdose.

But it’s not just kids who are vulnerable to prescription drug misuse. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, six million Americans misused controlled prescription drugs, with the majority of abused prescription drugs obtained from family and friends. These drugs often came from the home medicine cabinet.

The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, sponsored by the DEA, addresses this crucial public safety and public health issue.

Held on Saturday, April 27th, from 10am to 2pm, Take Back Day encourages all Americans to dispose of any unwanted, unused, or expired prescription medications in their homes. The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.

Last fall, Americans turned in nearly 460 tons (more than 900,000 pounds) of prescription drugs at more than 5,800 sites operated by the DEA and almost 4,800 of its state and local law enforcement partners. Overall, in its 16 previous Take Back events, DEA and its partners have taken in almost 11 million pounds nearly 5,500 tons of pills.

The typical methods for disposing of unused medicines flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash both pose potential safety and health hazards. That’s why Take Back Day offers a location finder to help people find nearby places where they can safely and anonymously dispose of prescription drugs so that they don’t end up in the wrong hands. 

Many people don’t understand the harm of taking medication in ways other than prescribed. Misuse of prescription drugs can mean taking someone else’s prescription, even if it’s for the same medical use as it was for the original patient – such as pain relief. Or it could mean taking medication in a different dosage than prescribed. Or it could mean taking medication to get high.

Counterfeit medication is another risk of prescription drug misuse. When a user isn’t the direct recipient of a prescription medication from a licensed professional, the result could be medication which isn’t legitimate.  

Last year, at the Healthy Tennessee Opioid Summit, Carrie Luther shared the story of her 29-year-old son, Tosh. After Tosh came down with a case of hives that was keeping him up at night, a friend gave him a Xanax to help him sleep. As instructed, Tosh took one quarter of one pill. Unbeknownst to Tosh or his friend, the Xanax was actually fentanyl. From just a sliver of one pill, Tosh ingested thirteen times the lethal dose of fentanyl and died within 30 minutes from an overdose.

Many people aren’t aware that they’re using counterfeit medications. Even a celebrity like Prince isn’t immune to this confusion; he died after taking a fake Vicodin that was laced with fentanyl.

The National Safety Council issued a report recently that the odds of accidentally dying from an opioid overdose in the U.S. are now greater than those of dying in a car accident, as well as from deaths caused by falls, pedestrian incidents, drowning and fire.

“Too many people still believe the opioid crisis is abstract and will not impact them. Many still do not see it as a major threat to them or their family,” said Maureen Vogel, spokeswoman for the National Safety Council in an email to CNN. “These data show the gravity of the crisis. We have known for some time that opioid overdose is an everyday killer, and these odds illustrate that in a very jarring way.”

Take Back Day provides an opportunity for Americans to prevent drug addiction and overdose deaths. Do your part to save lives: return excess prescription medications before they can cause harm.

CleanSlate treats patients suffering from opioid or alcohol addiction with medications and a continuum of care to support each individual’s journey to recovery. If you or someone you love needs help, contact us at 833-505-HOPE, or visit our website at to find the center nearest you.

Also read:

What You Don’t Know About A Pill Could Kill You

Law Enforcement Is Changing Its Response To The Opioid Epidemic. Here’s How.

Emergency Rooms Are Starting To Treat Addiction Patients Like They Have A Disease. Because They Do.

Recovery from addiction includes recovering trust.

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Michael Petersen

Michael Petersen is an Expansion Business Partner for CleanSlate, a leading national medical group that provides office-based outpatient medication treatment for the chronic disease of addiction, primarily alcohol and opioid use disorders. Prior to joining CleanSlate, Mike served as a Police Chief in the Columbia City Police Department in Indiana for a total service of 21 years.