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Three Good Reasons to Clean Your Medicine Cabinet

Updated on May 26, 2013

There are more than three good reasons to clean your medicine cabinet, but we’ll focus on three: teens, suicide and the environment. Our medicine cabinets are a serious public health and safety concern. So serious that a National Take Back Day has been established. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been coordinating with state and local law enforcement agencies across the country to help us safely dispose of unwanted, expired, and unused controlled substances and other medications. Every Spring we can take our pharmaceutical trash to collection sites that have been set up all across the country. CLICK HERE to find a collection site near you. (The link closes after the season closes.)

  • The service is free and anonymous; no questions asked.
  • Prescription and over the counter solid dosage medications, i.e. tablets and capsules accepted.
  • Intra-venous solutions, injectables, and needles will not be accepted.
  • Illicit substances such as marijuana or methamphetamine are not a part of this initiative.

In a recent press release, DOJ spokespersons report that, “Many Americans are not aware that medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse and abuse. Rates of prescription drug abuse in the United States are increasing at alarming rates, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet. In addition, many Americans do not know how to properly dispose of their unused medicine, often flushing them down the toilet or throwing them away – both potential safety and health hazards.”

Skittling and Robo Tripping

cough medicine pills are often red or brightly colored and resemble Skittles candy. Skittling is taking extremely large doses of cough medicine to get high. The "high" is caused by taking a large amount of dextromethorphan (DXM), a common active ingr
cough medicine pills are often red or brightly colored and resemble Skittles candy. Skittling is taking extremely large doses of cough medicine to get high. The "high" is caused by taking a large amount of dextromethorphan (DXM), a common active ingr


Teens, as well as many adults, mistakenly believe that because a medication is prescribed or sold over the counter, then it must be safe. There has been a steady rise in addiction resulting from prescription and over the counter medication misuse and abuse. Narcotic pain medications such as Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Percocet and Vicoden are classed as opiates. They are in the same classification as heroin. In fact, Oxycontin and Oxycodone are known on the street as “hillbilly heroin.” A person who becomes addicted to pain pills will often be lured to the streets and IV heroin use if their access to prescription opiates is blocked. Psycho-stimulants, such as Adderal, Ritalin or dexamphetamines that are prescribed for ADHD or weight loss are also commonly misused. These are often crushed and snorted to intensify their effects. Valium, xanax and other sedative/hypnotics that are prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders are commonly abused, and are often mixed with alcohol; a dangerous combination that frequently causes black outs and leads to arrest.

Dextromethorphan, or DXM, a substance found in over the counter cough and cold medications is often abused by teens because of easy access and affordability. Teens who wouldn’t consider taking street drugs, will abuse DXM because it is perceived as safe. When taken according to directions, products containing DXM are safe and effective. When teens abuse them, they take dangerously high doses causing a dissociative high similar to PCP and ketamine. CLICK HERE to better understand DXM, how it is abused, and some terms teens might use in connection with DXM use; such as triple C’s, robo tripping, plateau, and skittling.

Suicide Statistics

The Perspectives of Psychiatry

  • Every year approximately 30,000 people die by suicide in the United States, and one million worldwide.
  • Approximately 650,000 people yearly receive emergency treatment after attempting suicide in the United States.
  • It is the third leading cause of death among American youths and the eleventh for Americans of all ages.
  • Over the last 100 years suicides have out-numbered homicides by at least 3 to 2.
  • Almost 4 times as many Americans died by suicide than in the Vietnam War during the same time period.
  • The rates of suicide are exceptionally high among certain populations: white males over 75 years of age, Native Americans, and certain professions (e.g., health professions, police).
  • The rates among youth are rising.

Prescription and Over the Counter Drug Abuse: Orange County Comprehensive Report

  • Nationwide, unintentional overdose deaths involving prescription painkillers increased 117% between 2001 and 2005; from 3,944 to 8,541.
  • Over the same 4-year period, treatment admissions for painkiller addictions increased 74% (USDOJ, 2009).
  • In 2006, there were approximately 741,425 Emergency Department visits involving non-medical use of prescription and over-the-counter drug and dietary supplements.
  • 92% of drug-related suicide attempts in 2006 involved misuse of pharmaceuticals (SAMHSA, 2006).



The Environment

In 2008, members of Associated Press conducted a five month investigation which identified that traces of prescription drugs are in our drinking water. When a person takes a pill some of the medication is absorbed by the body and the rest is eliminated in the toilet, treated, emptied into rivers and streams, then treated again and used as drinking water. Some people dispose of pharmaceuticals in the toilet, believing it to be safer than throwing them in the trash and contaminating ground water. Samples taken from surface water and underground aquifers near land fills were found positive for pharmaceuticals. Even though water is treated, trace amounts of pharmaceuticals are still found in drinking water. How humans and wildlife are affected by these trace amounts over time is not known. The interaction of these drugs with chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals used to treat the water is another concern.

Here are some of the key findings obtained by the AP and reported by Fox News in March 2008:

  • Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.
  • Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.
  • Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.
  • A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.
  • The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.
  • Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency at that time commented, "We recognize it is a growing concern and we're taking it very seriously,"


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    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      8 years ago

      Thank you triosol. I really appreciate your taking the time to read and comment....and vote up!

    • triosol profile image


      8 years ago

      very useful and informative hub. Thanks for sharing with us. voted up.

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      8 years ago

      Thanks Peg Cole. I never thought to take to dr office. that makes sense. at first i was thinking they might not want everyone's garbage but it does make sense for dr offices and hospitals and clinics to have disposal sites! we could clean out our med cabinets every time we have an office visit or schedule a test.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      8 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Kimh039 - Excellent advice here for those of us who have families with medical issues and resulting prescriptions. Recently I gathered up a grocery bag full of unexpired meds and took them to my Doctor for disposal. I'd heard that flushing them was not good. Your statistics are scary, but necessary to know. Thanks for getting this info out there.

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      8 years ago

      Right Micky Dee - not to mention the shelf space they take up and the dust they accumulate. Thanks for popping in Micky Dee.......and have a great day! You're up early too.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      This is another great hub you've created! Very important. Old meds need to go anyway. Thank you Kim!

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      8 years ago

      gotta look out for you, so you'll keep those epigrams flowing. thanks for stopping by e-man.

    • epigramman profile image


      8 years ago

      ..strong advice and good common sense to do so - but it's a wake-up call for many of us who don't .......

      thanks for reminding us and looking after us ... signed your lucky and blessed children/adults of these pages of Hub!

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      8 years ago

      Thank you Nell. I'm amazed at how many suicides, accidental overdoses, emergency room visits and burglaries are related to our medicine cabinets! And those are just the ones we know about. For every one known suicide attempt there are believed to be 25 unknown attempts; mostly related to depression, trauma, loss and substance use. People are feeling so hopeless, they don't think they can be helped.

      Sorry, Nell. It's in the bottled water and underground water as well. But if you boil it, it should be good! Better yet. Just stop drinking water! Ha Ha.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Hi, Kim, wow, first of all I never even thought about cough mixture being used as a drug by kids, but of course anything that is a pharaceutical drug is potentially dangerous. I did remember seeing about drugs and tablets down the toilet, and getting into our water, but I never knew just how bad it was. from now on it's bottled water from an underground stream for me! thanks for this info, rated up cheers nell

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      8 years ago

      They had been checking the water, but trace amounts of contaminants are allowed in drinking water. The AP investigation in 08 really pressed the issue and exposed some discrepancies in the information that was being released. I think most of us just don't pay that much attention. We take our drinking water for granted. Also, prescription drug use has increased significantly, so it's also a sign of our times......Thanks for stopping to read and comment Minnetonka. It's always good to "see" you.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      It is pretty scary to hear about all the drugs in the water. I wonder why this information is coming out now and what was happening in the past. Maybe they just weren't checking the water like this before????

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      8 years ago

      LOL....wanted to get the hub finished early this week end!

      We'll be withdrawing from water, antibiotics won't work anymore, and people getting prozac in their water will go manic!

      Even though it's several hours later here, you're up pretty late too.

    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 

      8 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Thanks for another very informative hub. Those findings about the pharmaceuticals in the water from flushing this stuff down the toilet is pretty frightening. Forget the perscription or a martini. Just give me a glass of water.

      The entire country is becoming one huge medicine cabinet and the perscriptions just keep getting written. MONEY!

      Thanks for the info about September 25.

      And finally, what are you doing up so late or early, young lady?



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