Where Old Pills Go to Die

By Dirk Hanson 04/06/11
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Headed for the incinerator.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

This month, the government will run its second National Prescription Drug Take-Back day, sponsored by your friendly local DEA office as a means of anonymously collecting “expired, unused, and unwanted drugs.” (Sounds kind of sad, like they need a rest home—the pills, not the DEA agents). Anyway, we said anonymous, and we meant it. This is not a sting. The first Take-Back day last September was a resounding success, and the city of Los Angeles, for one, hopes to surpass its September total of an unbelievable 8000 pounds of pills. Across the nation, the September pickup netted about 121 tons of unwanted prescription pills—unwanted by that particular set of owners, anyway. DEA Special Agent Timothy J. Landrum said that unused and expired meds “can lead to accidental poisoning, overdose and abuse.” Not to mention some serious black market cake. What spurred this event was the Safe and Secure Drug Disposal Act of 2010, passed in response to concern by the EPA that unused meds were finding their way into the nation's waterways at a rate best described as "astounding." Take-Back day is Saturday, April 30. You can locate your nearest public collection bin at the DEA’s website.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]