How You Keep and Get Rid of Expired, Unused, and Unwanted Prescriptions Matters

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For many households across the country, the beginning of fall means the return of routine. Kids are back to school, and with it come the need to make sure homework is done, chores are completed, and schedules are kept. This time of year is also a great time to examine how we handle potentially hazardous items in the home such as prescription medication. By safely storing and disposing of prescription medication, we can help convey the importance of responsible medication management to youth, while also deterring possible abuse and safeguarding the environment.


Unbeknownst to many, prescription drug abuse by teens is a major area of concern. A 2017 survey found 1 in 7 teens admitting to using a prescription drug without a prescription. This can lead to many unfortunate consequences. In fact, the Office of National Drug Control Policy found that 71,000 children 18 and younger are seen for emergency room visits related to prescription drugs every year.


A major reason for this widespread abuse is the accessibility of prescription drugs, with 38% of Iowa 11th graders reporting that obtaining prescription medication not prescribed to them as “easy” or “very easy”. Much of this is due to the fact that medications are often not locked up in the home, and are easily found. This accessibility problem becomes exacerbated when medications are carelessly thrown away or left out, often putting medications in plain sight.


In addition to the risks posed to the community by making prescription drugs readily available, improper disposal can hurt the environment. One common way people dispose of excess or unwanted medications is to flush them down the toilet. While this might seem harmless, in actuality doing this can cause medications to find their way in to our water supply. Numerous studies over have shown trace amounts of medication found in lakes, rivers, streams, and reservoirs. Even in small concentrations, there is serious concern over their health effects on both wildlife and people, especially with long term exposure.


Fortunately, there are simple and inexpensive steps we can all take to maintain safe medication at home, as well as promote responsible disposal. The first step is to make sure existing medications in the home are placed in a lock box, and out of the reach of young children. These boxes are widely available and provide a peace of mind in knowing your medication won’t be improperly accessed.


Once you know your existing medication is secured, make sure that any unneeded medication is disposed of in a responsible manner. Luckily, doing this has never been easier. Numerous law enforcement agencies throughout the area, including all of Linn County’s law enforcement departments, have easily accessible drop box locations. Many of these are open 24/7. These boxes are safe, easy, free, and anonymous. Medications taken to these boxes are disposed of in accordance to strict guidelines that minimize environmental harm, and eliminate the possibility of inappropriate access. To inquire about a disposal location near you, contact your local law enforcement office, or visit for a nationwide database of locations.