About 75 percent of heroin users get their first taste of opioids from the medicine cabinets of family and friends, according to the National Survey on Drug Use for 2014.
Getting unused painkillers and other prescription drugs out of the house can help prevent people from stealing and misusing them, and is one small way Mainers can address a drug epidemic that, on average, killed more than one person in the state by overdose every day last year.
“Research shows that significant amounts of prescribed meds go unused. This is a diversion risk,” said Laura Mitchell, facilitator for the Community Health Leadership Board in Bangor.
There are several ways to get rid of unused or unwanted prescription pills, including dropping them off at some law enforcement agencies, throwing them away or dissolving them at home. In some cases — when there are no other options, and the drugs are dangerous enough — federal officials recommend flushing them down the toilet.
Here’s what you need to know.
Minnesota-based Verde Technologies began marketing a product in 2015 called the Deterra Drug Deactivation System, which is a pouch that contains carbon that is released by adding warm water to neutralize and dissolve the pills. Deterra is available in the pharmacy section at Sam’s Club in Bangor.
It takes about 15 minutes to dissolve the pills. Afterward, the pouch can be tossed into the trash.
The Deterra pouch is about $6 and can deactivate up to 15 pills, 2 ounces of liquid or two transdermal patches.
Walgreens Pharmacies in the Bangor area carry a $6 product called the RX Destroyer Drug Disposal Bottle, which also dissolves drugs, and similar products are available online, such as Drug Buster, which dissolves and neutralizes the active ingredients in about 15 minutes.
Give them to the police
Police departments in Maine and across the nation set up collection points in parks, parking lots or other public areas for people to drop off unused or unwanted drugs as part of the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. The bi-annual event, held in Maine since 2010, is next scheduled for Oct. 28.
You can also drop off unwanted or unused drugs at police departments in Bangor, Brewer, Holden, Orono and Veazie and at Penobscot County Jail and other law enforcement agencies across the state that have MedReturn boxes or similar receptacles.
The two Bangor locations are open 24 hours a day, “so people can drop them off whenever they have time,” said Sgt. Wade Betters of the Bangor Police Department. “No need to talk with an officer or secretary if you just need to drop meds in the box.”
The green MedReturn box is right by the front entrance at Bangor Police Department.
And Orono police officers will even make house calls to pick up unwanted drugs.
“If someone can’t come in to the station, they can call and we’ll go to them to pick up meds,” Orono Police Chief Josh Ewing said.
Throw them away in trash
The FDA also says most medications can be thrown out in the trash. It suggests mixing uncrushed pills with kitty litter or used coffee grounds — to make them unappealing to drug users — and then placing the combination in a sealable plastic bag or other container that won’t leak.
Names on pill bottles also should be removed or covered before the container is discarded.
But that method may still provide an opportunity for a child or pet to accidentally take the medicine, the FDA warns.
Flush them down the toilet — but only as a last resort for some drugs
When drugs are dumped down the sink or flushed in toilets in homes with septic tanks, chemicals can leach into the ground and seep into groundwater, the Environmental Protection Agency warns. Drugs also can pass through water treatment systems and enter waterways in communities with municipal wastewater treatment plants.
That’s why officials have asked people to give drugs to authorities, and only flush them as a last resort.
“There is a small number of medicines that may be especially harmful and, in some cases, fatal with just one dose if they are used by someone other than the person for whom the medicine was prescribed,” according to the Food and Drug Association.