Do you have a bunch of expired or unused prescription medications scattered throughout your house?

Maybe you toss them in the trash or maybe you just hoard them in an unused drawer. Whatever the case, it's something most of us have done (myself included) at one time or another. Well, as you may have guessed, in some cases, that's not exactly the ideal course of action.

Certain drugs, especially narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances, can cause major harm to others if not properly disposed. Improperly discarded medications have the potential to be found by people — adults and children — for whom they weren't prescribed, creating the likelihood of abuse, such as addiction or even overdose.


Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images.

In February 2016, Walgreens announced plans to roll out kiosks that will let customers safely discard unused or expired medication. They'll be installing more than 500 kiosks.

Walgreens announced the plan in response to the opioid epidemic and the dramatic increase in deaths related to opioid pain relievers and heroin over the past 16 years. In addition to that, naloxone, an opioid antidote, will be made available in more than 35 states across the country without a prescription.

A safe disposal kiosk is seen here during an event unveiling a multistate program to combat opioid abuse in the U.S. Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images.

Addressing the epidemic has been a priority for both President Obama and members of Congress.

In February, Representative Robert Dold (R-IL) introduced legislation to combat opioid-related overdose deaths. The bill, part of the larger Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 400 to 5. In July, the bill was signed into law by President Obama. The focus of Rep. Dold's bill is to expand access to naloxone to first responders.

Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL). Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images.

While there are a number of other places that accept unused prescriptions, such as police and fire departments, putting them in pharmacies make it much more convenient.

"Yes, it's a safe place to bring unused medications," Illinois State Senator Michael Connelly told the Naperville Sun about the rollout at nearby Walgreens Deerfield headquarters. "But more importantly, it's a constant reminder when you come to pick up your prescription that there's a problem out there, and that you, too, have to be involved in safely disposing of medications."

"Across all of America, 47,000 people have died because of drug overdoses, Walgreens Boots Alliance co-COO Alex Gourlay told CBS. "It’s a real issue that we want to play our part in controlling and hoping to solve."

Bottles of prescription medications. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

There are firm steps you can take to reduce the chances of your drugs winding up in the wrong hands — and it's potentially lifesaving.

If you're not sure if there's a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) authorized unused medication drop location near you, you can visit the agency's website or call 1-800-882-9539.

If for some reason you absolutely must dispose of medicine in your household trash, the Federal Drug Administration recommends mixing medicines with "unpalatable substances such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds," place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag, and throw the bag in the trash. Some medicines, however, are safe to simply flush down the sink or toilet — you can find a list on the FDA website.

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