Make a date to take back your drugs

Proper disposal of unused medications is important for our water supplies and for our health. It’s also easy, once you do a little investigating into how drug take-back works in your area. Follow the simple guide below to make a plan that works for you:

Step 1: Make a date. Write a date in your calendar right now when you will clean out your medicine cabinet and plan for proper disposal.

Step 2: Do a little homework before your date. Before you start, think about how you’re going to dispose of what you find. There are a couple major options: drop off your drugs at a site that’s always open, or wait until a take-back day. One catch: only certain places (National Drug Take-Back Day events and law enforcement drop-off locations) are allowed to take controlled substances (drugs that have the potential for abuse or dependence). Controlled substances include things like Ritalin, OxyContin, Percocet, OxyContin, Percodan, Codeine, and hydrocodone. Be prepared to keep an eye out for these drugs. If you have them, it might make a difference for where you take things.

Step 3: Be prepared. On the big day, grab a plastic baggie, small box, or other container to hold the medicines you find.

Step 4: Get to know your medicine cabinet. Go through every medicine you have – in your cabinet, travel bags, bedside table, wherever you might have left them. Look at expiration dates. Consider what you’re no longer taking. Look for bottles with a little medicine left to treat an illness that’s long since passed. Put everything you no longer need in your container.

Step 5: Protect your privacy. For anything with a prescription label, remove your name and prescription number. Leave the name of the medicine intact.

Step 6: Recognize those special medicines. Did you find any painkillers or other controlled substances? If so, you’ll need to be sure to choose a drop-off location where they’re accepted.

Step 7: Plan for the second date. Now it’s time to decide where to go with your medications. Identify the best place and map it out now.

     Take part in National Drug Take-Back day. There’s one April 26, 2014 (10 am – 2 pm). On Wednesday, March 26 locations will be posted on the DEA website. You can take controlled substances to a Take-Back Day event.

     Find a permanent location in your community. Click on your state here to explore locations at drug stores or law enforcement sites (which take controlled meds). Or download an app (iPhone or Android).

Want to make a bigger impact? Bring a +1 to your take-back date!

Do you have an aging parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle who could use a hand cleaning out their medicine cabinet? Offer to help. Set a date to visit your loved one and take them through the steps above.


Do you have information on other take-back locations, like a chain store’s policy, or experience with a take-back program? Share it below in the comments.


Drugs in drinking water: What can you do?

Do you think it’s safe to take another person’s medication? Would you take it if you didn’t know what it was? Would you ask someone else to do the same?

When you flush medicines down the sink or toilet, that’s essentially what’s happening. Although the amounts of drugs found in our waterways and drinking water are small, the consequences could be massive. More important, there’s a better way to dispose of expired and unused medications.

pill pic

Testing has shown the presence of pharmaceuticals — hormones, painkillers, antibiotics, anti-seizure drugs, heart medications, and more — in the drinking water supply of at least 41 million Americans. While medicine enters waterways through excretion, more winds up in our drinking water after being flushed down toilets or washed down sinks. Some wastewater system processes degrade pharmaceuticals, but most are not designed to do so. And drinking water regulations do not address testing or treatment for pharmaceuticals. Water utilities are under no obligation to track or disclose the presence of drugs. There is now significant evidence that pharmaceuticals in waterways are having harmful effects on fish and wildlife as well.

Various federal, state, and local authorities have been working to set up systems for people to safely dispose of unused drugs. One of the challenges for individuals is that take-back programs are not uniform; they’re location-dependent. There are also different rules for controlled substances. Doctor’s offices and drug stores cannot accept them. That’s why many permanent collection sites are at law enforcement agencies, like local police stations. The only universal program is the DEA’s National Take-Back Day, held in 2014 on April 26th.

What’s the future hold for drug disposal? Lawmakers in California recently proposed legislation that would require the pharmaceutical industry to fund a uniform disposal program throughout the state. Similar programs exist in Europe and Canada. For now, without a uniform take-back program, it’s still up to each of us to take the initiative to discover the proper disposal procedure in our area.

We use safety caps and keep medicines out of reach of children, yet the way we dispose of drugs reflects a big gap in health and safety. Fortunately, it’s an easy fix. Check out our handy guide, “Make a date to take back drugs.”

For more information on pharmaceuticals in waterways and drug disposal, see:


Photo source:

The Reasonable Person Model

This first post looks at one theory that might be used to understand environmental or sustainable behaviors. The two posts that follow are part of a class assignment on applying the theory.

The Reasonable Person Model (RPM) is a theory from environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan that uses the perspective of human informational needs to help us better understand human actions. According to the Kaplans, information is central to our survival and to our functioning. We yearn, horde, and are overwhelmed by information. The model addresses three types of needs relative to reasonable action:

  1. Building mental models – Understanding what’s going on around oneself
  2. Being effective – The capacity to use knowledge and skill (requires not being overwhelmed or mentally fatigued)
  3. Taking meaningful action – The desire to be needed and to make a difference

In other words, people are more likely to be reasonable and cooperative if we are able make sense of information, feel competent to act, and feel like our actions will make a difference.

I used RPM to develop two informational documents regarding the proper disposal of pharmaceuticals. The first provides some basic background information to help people understand problems regarding drug waste. To avoid overwhelming people, I focused on a small subset of issues (drugs in drinking water) and ignored related issues (environmental impacts and potential drug abuse stemming from improper disposal). I tried, in a brief way, to show readers that their drug disposal actions make a difference. The second document uses familiar mental models (“making a date,” safety caps) to provide simple steps for meaningful action. Following through still requires a little exploration on the part of individuals (also important in the RPM), as drug take-back programs are different depending on where you live.

Applying the RPM to a specific environmental behavior was an interesting exercise. For me, it raised a number of questions about how best to convey informational to bring about a desired behavior, such as:

  • What is the essential information people need to take action?
  • How do we balance a reasonable amount of information with accuracy and acknowledging uncertainty?
  • As “experts” or researchers, what information do we share and how?

Some of the Kaplan’s work on the relationship between people and our environment is available through Google Scholar.