UPDATED: Monday, April 8, 2013 - 3:24pm
(StatePoint) What do you do with your unused prescription pills and over-the-counter medications? Do you throw them away? Flush them down the toilet? Simply leave them in your cabinet for a rainy day?
Doing any of the above can provoke tragic consequences including enabling the drugs to get into the wrong hands or find their way into drinking water and irrigation supplies. That's why it's crucial to safely dispose of unused prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, veterinary medications and nutritional supplements.
According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health , one-quarter of first-time illegal drug users 12 years and older began by using prescription drugs non-medically.
Prescription drugs are abused far more frequently than illicit drugs for one simple reason: they can be found in almost every home, free for the taking. What's more, drug overdose deaths, mostly related to addictive painkillers, rose for the 11th straight year in 2010, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And while it sounds quick and easy to flush pills down the toilet or throw them in the wastebasket, this method can be harmful to the environment and to people's health. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, nearly 80 percent of recently tested rivers contained traces of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, steroids, hormones and contraceptives.
So how can the average person go from being part of the problem to being part of the solution?
Begin by examining every prescription you bring into your home. Ask your doctor to ensure he or she is prescribing in the amount you will use.
Consider locking your medicine cabinet or moving prescriptions to a secure location, safe from the unwelcome explorations of children or intruders.
Remove any leftover drugs from your home promptly and dispose of them in a way that has as little environmental impact as possible.
"Drug take-back programs are a great way to get rid of unused medications," says John Waffenschmidt, Vice President of Community Affairs and Environmental Science at Covanta Energy, the largest owner and operator of "Energy-from-Waste" facilities in North America. Covanta works with organizations to provide safe disposal of medications collected by drug take-back programs. The company does so free of charge, safely disposing of drugs at its facilities.
Since its inception in 2010, Covanta's Rx4Safety  program is responsible for having destroyed more than 600,000 pounds of unwanted medications nationwide. Partnerships like these have resulted in the proliferation of successful drug take-back programs that allow prescription drugs to be dropped off at secure locations, such as police stations or at special events held throughout the year, for transport to facilities where they can be destroyed safely.
If you think you may have unwanted prescription pills in your cabinet, take the time to collect them for the Drug Enforcement Agency's National Drug Take-Back Day  on April 27, 2013.
More information about responsible medication disposal can be found at www.CovantaEnergy.com/rx4safety .
Take a positive step forward in ensuring your community is safer and cleaner.