The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is providing an opportunity for communities nationwide to help prevent pill abuse and theft by collecting potentially dangerous expired, unused, and unwanted medications, including controlled drugs. On April 30, 2011, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the DEA along with state and local law enforcement agencies will help people get rid of their controlled substances. DEA will provide for the disposal of the medications. There is still time for your community to jump on board and set up a collection event.

The familiar methods for disposing of unused medicines—flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash—pose potential safety, health and environmental hazards. Pharmaceuticals thrown in the trash can leach into groundwater, while those that are flushed can kill bacteria that break down waste in sewage plants, damage septic systems, and contaminate nearby waterways and harm aquatic wildlife.

Recent studies have identified a wide range of pharmaceutical chemicals in rivers, streams, groundwater, and drinking water nationwide. It has also been shown that some of these compounds are potentially harmful to fish and other aquatic organisms, affecting reproduction and development even at very low concentrations. The long-term impacts of medicine disposal on human health and the health of the environment are not fully known.

This upcoming collection day comes on the heels of the DEA’s first event last September, in which 242,000 pounds—121 tons—of prescription drugs were turned in to nearly 4,100 sites operated by the agency and more than 3,000 state and local law enforcement partners.

If your community is interested in holding a collection event, the local law enforcement agency will need to register with the DEA. Find a contact in your area.

To find a registered collection site near you go to the DEA website. For details on how to hold a successful collection event, check out IISG’s Disposal of Unwanted Medicines toolkit. You can download toolkit chapters here.