SUE RAHR: The proper way to dispose of prescription drugs

As kids across King County head back to school, parents, teachers and law enforcement are all thinking about ways to keep them safe at school. For years, we’ve emphasized the risks of narcotics and we’ve made great headway against methamphetamine. With those successes, however, some students are turning to the medicine cabinet.

Prescription medicines are a growing part of effectively treating illness, pain and disease. Here in King County we are especially aware of the benefits of prescription innovation with a strong biopharmaceutical hub working on the next miracle cures for so many diseases.

Abuse of those prescriptions, however, is a growing risk and our officers see the growing impact of that abuse. And too often the medicines available to our kids come directly from the medicine cabinet. Ironically, parents are often very good at warning their children about the risks of illegal narcotics. The risks from those drugs are well known.

Often, however, parents are less aware of the risks that can come from the misuse of prescriptions. Because prescriptions play a positive role in health care, we aren’t as aware of the risks from taking medicines the wrong way, the accidental interactions they may have with other medicines or even some of the ways common prescriptions can be tampered with. The best way to eliminate those risks is to quickly and properly dispose of medicines you aren’t using.

Fortunately there are some simple steps parents can take to keep prescription medicines out of the wrong hands.

First, make sure you are following your doctor’s guidelines. In some cases people stop taking their prescriptions when they feel better, even if their doctor tells them to follow the course of treatment to the end. This can be one source of unused medicines. Make sure you follow your doctor’s orders.

Second, look through your medicine cabinet to see what unused medicines you might have. Remember that prescription medicines can expire, so holding on to medicines for future use might mean holding medicines past their effectiveness. Further, the longer medicines sit unused, the more likely they are to be stolen or misused. A significant percentage of misused prescriptions are acquired in exactly that way.

There are a couple of ways to dispose of unwanted medicines. One is to return them to a pharmacy that is set up to collect for the process. (Not every pharmacy accepts unwanted drugs). For a list of pharmacies in King County go to

An alternative is to gather unused medicines and dispose of them. Properly disposing of prescriptions is quick and easy.

1. Don’t flush them. Proper disposal keeps them out of our water.

2. Mix medicines in a sealable plastic bag with coffee grounds, kitty litter or sawdust, and water. This prevents them from being tampered with or misused.

3. Seal it in a bag.

4. Throw it in your garbage. This prevents it from reaching the environment and ensures that medicines are out of reach of those who might misuse them.

At the Sheriff’s Office, we’ve joined with a number of health care and law enforcement organizations to spread the message about proper drug disposal. By visiting, parents can get more information about the best way to protect their children and keep prescription medicines out of the wrong hands.

These simple steps can make a big difference when it comes to reducing the availability of these drugs and help keep kids safe as they return to school.

Sue Rahr is King County Sheriff. She can be reached at

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