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  • Drug Take-Back Day: A Q&A with Jason Hack, MD

    PillsOn Saturday, April 26, 2014, Rhode Islanders will have the opportunity to turn in expired, unused or unwanted medications during the eighth annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. The Miriam Hospital will be one of nearly 40 secure Rhode Island drop-off sites accepting unused or expired medications that day, and Newport Hospital pharmacists and Emergency Department clinicians will be available at the Newport and Portsmouth Police Departments to answer questions individuals might have about safely and properly disposing of potentially hazardous medications.

    Jason Hack, MD, director of medical toxicology at Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital and an emergency department physician, is one of several Lifespan clinicians who have been active in the public arena speaking about the negative consequences of drug abuse, both prescription medications and illegal drugs, such as heroin. We asked him some questions about National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

    1. Why is a drug take-back day needed?

    A drug take-back event provides people with an easy, anonymous way to safely dispose of their unneeded, unwanted or expired medications. This year, National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day will be observed at convenient locations across Rhode Island on Saturday, April 26. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)'s last take-back event - in October, 2013 - resulted in a nation-wide return of 324 tons (647,211 pounds) of unneeded, unwanted, or expired medications at 5,683 centers in one day!

    2. Why is it important to turn in unused prescription medications?

    Every year, people across the U.S. end up with a few, if not a bunch, of prescription medicines they no longer need. These medicines lie around in cabinets or drawers for months to years. They take up space; they could potentially poison a child who swallows them by mistake; or they could be stolen and sold illicitly or used by people the medications were not intended for. Getting rid of them in a safe way helps reduce the prevalence of these issues.

    3. What are the risks of having these meds in your home?

    Child poisonings (accumulated medications or forgotten bottles of pills potentially could be found by exploring children and mistakenly ingested); confusion about your own medications (inadvertently taking the wrong medicine from one of the many look alike pill bottles); and diversion (someone else taking your medications as a means of drug abuse or selling them).

    4. Why can’t I just flush them down the toilet?

    It is increasingly being recognized that pharmaceutical compounds are being found in our lakes, rivers, streams and ground water. While a direct link of harm to humans has not been established, effects on biological systems within these waterways have been shown to exist. Previous studies looking at natural water systems across the nation found more than 80 percent had measurable amounts of medications, including detectable levels of antibiotics, psychiatric medications, anticoagulants, drugs for your heart, anti-seizure medications and pain medicines. Although much of these pharmaceuticals are removed by water treatment plants, the plants are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals from water, so the process is not perfect.

    5. Why would people have unused medications?

    People often have left over medications from prescriptions they never finished (e.g. a 10-day antibiotic prescription they only took for seven days), or because medications were prescribed to a patient but then they felt better sooner than expected (e.g. an antibiotic, a cough suppressant, a decongestant, and a bronchodilator they were given for a cough). It might also be a situation in which a doctor gave a patient a number of medications that were filled, but some of them went unused (e.g. prescription strength ibuprophen, a muscle relaxant, and an opioid pain medication, etc. for a back injury).