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Frequently Asked Questions



What is Take Back Your Meds?

We are a group of health organizations, environmental groups, police, drugstores, and others that support the creation of a statewide program for the safe return and disposal of left-over medicines for Washington state residents.   

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Why do we need a safe medicine return and disposal program?

When used properly medicines can improve our lives. When leftover drugs can be toxic endangering our children our families and the environment. A huge amount of medicines go unused - about one-third of medicines sold - yet we don't have a secure and environmentally sound way to dispose of them.

Storing unwanted or expired medicines in our homes contributes to the epidemic of medicine abuse and accidental poisonings. When flushed or thrown away, unused medicines are hazardous waste that pollutes our waters and environment. Medicine take-back programs offer the only secure and environmentally sound way to dispose of leftover medicines. 

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Startling Statistics on Medicine Abuse and Poisonings:

  • Drug overdoses in Washington have surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death. (WA DOH)
  • Almost 12% of Washington state teens (one of the highest rates in the nation) use prescription pain medicines to get high. (WA DOH)
  • Medicine cabinets are the new drug dealer. More than three out of five teens say prescription pain relievers are easy to get from parent’s or grandparent’s medicine cabinets. (WA DOH)
  • 85% of poisoning deaths involved medicines in 2006. Fatal poisonings increased 395% from 1990 to 2006 in Washington State. (WA DOH)
  • 32% of child poisoning deaths in Washington were caused by someone else’s prescription medication and 26% were caused by over-the-counter medications. (WA DOH) 

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Growing Concerns about Pharmaceutical Pollution:

  • 139 streams were sampled throughout the U.S. and 80% tested positive for the presence of pharmaceuticals. (USGS) In the Pacific Northwest, researchers have found painkillers, antihistamines, antibiotics, heart medications and hormones in surface, ground and marine waters as well as soils and sediments. Find out more...  
  • Even the low levels of medicines found in our waterways hurt fish and aquatic life. Researchers have observed changes in fish behavior and reproduction.
  • A wide range of medicines have been found in the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan cities. (AP Investigation)
  • Large amounts of waste pharmaceuticals are being collected by voluntary and temporary take-back programs in about a dozen Washington counties. More than 75,000 pounds have been collected in about two years, demonstrating the large volume of waste medicines that can be kept out of our environment.
  • If we don’t begin to act now to reduce pharmaceutical pollution, we are passing the problem on to future generations. As a simple first step, we can use medicine take-back programs to prevent unused medicines from getting into our waters and the environment. It is estimated that about one-third of all prescription and over-the-counter drugs sold need safe disposal. 

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What about existing take-back programs in some communities? 

  • Only about 14 of Washington’s 39 counties have take-back programs, as of November 2010. Even in these counties, many major cities do not have a take-back program.
  • These are voluntary, temporary programs that are funded by local governments, law enforcement, retailers and taxpayers – groups who should not have to bear the entire financial burden. 
  • These temporary programs are unlikely to continue due to ongoing funding cuts to local government and law enforcement budgets. 

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What are the problems with flushing or disposing of medicines in the trash?

Leftover medicine is toxic waste. It poses a danger to people, pets, and the environment if it’s not disposed of properly. If flushed or thrown away it can get into the waterways, affecting our drinking water. Just as we don’t put used motor oil or leftover paint thinner in the trash, we should not put toxic leftover medicines in the garbage. Unwanted medicines should be disposed of properly like other household hazardous waste.  

  • Wastewater treatment facilities don’t destroy pharmaceuticals that are flushed. Most drugs pass through treatment plants and into our surface, ground, and marine waters.
  • Trash disposal is not secure– especially for narcotics and other highly addictive and dangerous drugs. Even if pills are crushed or adulterated before they’re thrown in the trash – which is a dangerous practice itself – the drugs retain their biological and chemical activity and can still get into the environment. Trash disposal simply puts the environmental problem of these persistent toxic chemicals onto future generations.
  • Pets can be poisoned by medicines thrown in the trash. The Animal Poison Control Center handled more than 46,000 cases in the U.S. of pets exposed to medicines in 2009. (ASPCA)
  • Toxic leftover medicines are household hazardous waste that should not be put into landfills. Two counties in Washington have local ordinances that do not allow residents to throw all or most medicines in the garbage.
  • High temperature incineration at properly permitted facilities is currently the safest disposal method for toxic left-over medicines. That’s how the pharmaceutical industry disposes of their unwanted medicines.

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Why are there so many leftover drugs?

  • There are many reasons why people have leftover prescription medicines. A doctor may change a patient’s medicine to find one that’s better for them. Large amounts of medicines are often leftover after a serious illness or after the death of a family member. Overprescribing, especially of pain relievers, is also a problem that is receiving attention. 
  • Over-the-counter medicines also need to be properly handled and disposed of safely. Several over-the-counter medicines (e.g., ibuprofen, Tylenol) are on the top ten poisoning list in Washington, and over-the-counter drugs are frequently found in our waters.

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What should I NOT do with unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs?

  • Do NOT store them in an unsecured medicine cabinet where children, teens or visitors may have access.
  • Do NOT flush your medicines down the toilet or wash them down the sink.
  • Do NOT throw them away if you can use a medicine take-back program.
  • Do NOT crush your pills to dispose of in the trash, this can be very dangerous.

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So, what can I do now?

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What is the long-term solution and the cost?

  • The best way to safely get rid of unused medications is to return them to a convenient and secure medicine return location. Once collected these leftovers, which are toxic waste, are securely transported to an approved facility for high-temperature incineration – the industry standard for safe disposal of unwanted medicines.
  • Unfortunately, Washington does not have medicine take-back programs in most cities and counties.  The drop-off locations that do exist are operating under temporary funding arrangements. Take Back Your Meds supports creation of a statewide medicine take-back program, with sustainable funding from drug companies. Find out more...
  • Drug manufacturers posted sales of almost $4 billion in Washington last year and for a couple of pennies a container of medicines sold they could implement a successful statewide return program.
  • Currently, drug companies pay for and operate a successful take-back program right next door in British Columbia, Canada. In 2009, this program safely disposed of 113,000 pounds of medicines at a cost of $351,000 (U.S.).
  • Because drug companies have not voluntarily stepped up to provide a take-back program in Washington, we support legislation that would require pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide and fund a permanent statewide drug take-back program.

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Find out more and get involved.

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© 2010