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April 27 was National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, a time to safely dispose of medicines that are no longer needed.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-inspired event, held twice each year, featured locations manned by officers at which people could bring medications – no questions asked.

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Getting unneeded medicines out of the household mix can be important.

Shelly Kelly, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s director of health regulation, has explained why.

"Unused or expired prescription medications are a public safety issue that could lead to potential accidental poisoning, misuse or overdose. Studies show that over half of abused prescription drugs are obtained -- often unknowingly -- from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet."

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Take-back programs help reduce childhood overdoses, restrict household drug theft, limit the accumulation of drugs by the elderly, protect the environment, reduce pharmaceutical contamination of fresh water and eliminate waste.

But what if you did not participate on Saturday? What do you do the rest of the year if you wish to get rid of old drugs?

The U.S. Food and Drugs Administration advises first to follow disposal instructions in the product package insert. If that is not available and you simply don’t know what to do, follow these steps to dispose of most medicines in the household trash:

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• Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, cat litter or used coffee grounds.

• Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.

• Throw the container in your household trash.

• Delete all personal information on the prescription label of empty pill bottles or medicine packaging, then dispose of the container.

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A small number of medicines have specific instructions to immediately flush down the toilet when no longer needed. These medicines 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 they were prescribed.

We join DHEC and participating agencies in urging people to participate in the take-back programs when scheduled. They offer convenience. But in many instances, you should not wait.

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