Drug Free

Tips for Medication Storage and Disposal

Reducing access to prescription drugs is one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent substance misuse. There are simple steps you can take to stop your medications from getting into the wrong hands.

Proper Storage:

  • Ask your pharmacist if your prescribed medications pose a risk of misuse.
    • If so, lock your medications in a cabinet, drawer, or medicine safe, out of the reach of adults who may be at risk for drug misuse, children, and pets.
  • Count your prescription pills every two weeks to ensure that you have been taking them as prescribed and that none have been removed by someone other than you.

Proper Disposal of Unused Medication

  • Find out if your community has a medication take-back program. You can check the DEA website here or ask your local drug prevention coalition or police department to see if there are any programs in your area.
  • Request a drug disposal bag from your local health department or pharmacy. If there are no take-back programs in your area, your local health department or select pharmacies may provide you with a safe disposal bag that contains powder to dissolve your unused medication.
  • Safe home disposal. If a take-back program or drug disposal bag is not available, you can safely dispose of medication in your household trash by following these steps:
    • Remove the medication from its container and mix it with an undesirable substance, such as dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds.
    • Place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag and place it in your household trash.
    • Scratch out all personal information on the original prescription bottle and dispose of it in your trash or recycling.

REMEMBER: Do NOT share your prescription medications with others. Not only is it against the law, but your prescription medication can have dangerous or even life-threatening effects on someone else.

How to determine the best disposal method?

Frequently Asked Questions

Drug addiction is the most severe form of a substance use disorder (SUD). An SUD develops when a person’s continued use of alcohol and/or drugs causes significant issues, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home. An SUD can range from mild to severe.

Addiction is a complex, chronic brain disease characterized by drug craving, seeking, and use that persists even in the face of devastating life consequences. Addiction results largely from brain changes that stem from prolonged drug use—changes that involve multiple brain circuits, including those responsible for governing self-control and other behaviors. Drug addiction is treatable, often with medications (for some addictions) combined with behavioral therapies. However, relapse is common and can happen even after long periods of abstinence, underscoring the need for long-term support and care. Relapse does not signify treatment failure, but rather should prompt treatment re-engagement or modification. For more information, see Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.

There is no easy answer to this common question. If and how quickly you become addicted to a drug depends on many factors, including your biology (your genes, for example), age, gender, environment, and interactions among these factors. Vast differences affect a person’s sensitivity to various drugs and likelihood of addiction vulnerability. While one person may use a drug one or many times and suffer no ill effects, another person may overdose with the first use or become addicted after a few uses. There is no way of knowing in advance how quickly you will become addicted, but there are some clues—an important one being whether you have a family history of addiction.

The signs of drug use and addiction can vary depending on the person and the drug, but some common signs are:

  • impaired speech and motor coordination
  • bloodshot eyes or pupils that are larger or smaller than usual
  • changes in physical appearance or personal hygiene
  • changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
  • changes in mood or disinterest in engaging in relationships or activities

If a person is compulsively seeking and using a drug(s) despite negative consequences, such as loss of job, debt, family problems, or physical problems brought on by drug use, then he or she is probably addicted. And while people who are addicted may believe they can stop any time, most often they cannot and need professional help to quit. Support from friends and family can be critical in getting people into treatment and helping them to stay drug-free following treatment.

If you know someone who has a problem with drugs and needs help, see our Step-by-Step Treatment Guides. For information on substance use treatment providers, see the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locatoror call 1-800-662-HELP.

NIDA and other agencies track trends in drug use through various surveys and data collection systems. Annually, NIDA supports the collection of data on drug use patterns among secondary school students and young adults through the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey; for more information, see the Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends DrugFacts.

NIDA also supports the National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS), a network of researchers who monitor drug use patterns in major metropolitan areas across the Nation and in regional “hot spots,” such as within and across border cities and areas. You can also find statistics on drug use from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Visit our Overdose Death Rates webpage for statistics on drug overdose deaths, compiled from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s CDC Wonder database.

You can find more information on NIDA’s Trends & Statistics webpage.

Prescription opioids can be prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain, but can also have serious risks and side effects.  Common prescription opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine and methadone.  Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever use for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain.  Heroin is an illegal opioid.

Misuse is defined as taking a prescription in higher amounts or longer than recommended by a physician, using someone else’s prescription, or using opioids to get high.  An estimated 317,647 Tennesseans misused opioids in 2016.  25% of individuals who misuse opioids become physically dependent.

Dependence is defined as withdrawal when an individual stops taking an opioid.  Opioid dependence can occur when opioids are taken for too long a time period or too many opioids are taken.  People develop a tolerance for opioids and need to take more of a drug to get the same pain relief or prevent withdrawal symptoms.  Even at low doses, taking an opioid pain reliever more than 3 months increases the risk of addiction by 15 times.

Yes, repeated misuse of prescription opioids can lead to a substance use disorder (SUD), a medical illness which ranges from mild to severe and from temporary to chronic. Addiction is the most severe form of an SUD. An SUD develops when continued misuse of the drug changes the brain and causes health problems and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home.

People addicted to an opioid medication who stop using the drug can have severe withdrawal symptoms that begin as early as a few hours after the drug was last taken.

These symptoms include:

  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Cold flashes with goose bumps
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Severe cravings

These symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and are the reason many people find it so difficult to stop using opioids. There are medicines being developed to help with the withdrawal process, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved sale of a device, NSS-2 Bridge, that can help ease withdrawal symptoms. The NSS-2 Bridge device is a small electrical nerve stimulator placed behind the person’s ear, that can be used for up to five days during the acute withdrawal phase. There are also medicines being developed to help with the withdrawal process. The FDA approved lofexidine, a non-opioid medicine designed to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.

  • Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
  • Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.
  • The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017.
  • Opioid overdoses in large cities increase by 54 percent in 16 states.

This issue has become a public health crisis with devastating consequences including increases in opioid misuse and related overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome due to opioid use and misuse during pregnancy. The increase in injection drug use has also contributed to the spread of infectious diseases including HIV and hepatitis C.  As seen throughout the history of medicine, science can be an important part of the solution in resolving such a public health crisis.

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