Safe Drug Disposal Portal Outreach Toolkit: Share Quick Facts

Why is drug take-back so important? Leftover medications pose serious risks to public health and the environment. Share the following statistics below to make the case for why drug take-back is so needed. 


Quick Facts: Health and Environmental Impacts of Leftover Pharmaceuticals in the United States


Prescription Drug Abuse and Accidental Misuse

Storing unwanted and expired medications in the home increases the risk of misuse and places children, seniors, and pets at risk for accidental poisoning.

  • One U.S. citizen dies every 14 minutes from a drug overdose.[i]
  • There are 100 overdose deaths per day across the country.[ii]
  • Today, unintentional prescription opioid overdose kills more Americans than cocaine and heroin combined.[iii]
  • Drug abuse has surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of injury death.[iv]
  • More Americans now die from drug overdose than died of AIDS at the peak of that epidemic.[v]
  • More people died of opioid overdoses in 2015 than the number killed by guns.[vi]
  • Federal and state governments have declared this public health threat an epidemic.[vii]


Environmental Contamination

When drugs are disposed of in the garbage, poured down the drain, or flushed, they end up in the environment. Even if they enter the sewage system first, pharmaceutical compounds reach wastewater treatment plants that are not designed to remove them.

  • Each year, over $1 billion worth of leftover drugs are thrown in the trash, flushed, or relegated to medicine cabinets.[viii]
  • A U.S. Geological Survey study found that 80 percent of streams tested across the country were contaminated with at least one pharmaceutical, personal care product, or other organic wastewater contaminant.[ix]
  • Drugs in the environment directly affect the fertility and development of fish, frogs, snails, and other animals, thereby harming aquatic ecosystems. [x]
  • Scientists, government agencies, public health groups, and environmental organizations grow increasingly concerned about the human impacts of pharmaceuticals in drinking water due to the drugs’ effects on animal populations.


[i] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2013). Opioids drive continued increase in drug overdose deaths [Press Release]. Retrieved 24 September 2013 from http://www.cdc. gov/media/releases/2013/p0220_drug_overdose_deaths.html.

[ii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012). Wide-ranging OnLine Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER). Retrieved 7 July 2013 from html.

[iii] Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). Prescription painkiller overdoses at epidemic levels kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined [Press Release]. Retrieved 12 December 2011 from releases/2011/p1101_flu_pain_killer_overdose.html.

[iv] U.S. Food & Drug Administration (2014). FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg Statement on Prescription Opioid Abuse [Press Announcement]. Retrieved 9 September 2016 from http://

[v] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Multiple Cause of Death, 1999-2015 Request. Retrieved 13 April 2017 from

[vi] Washington Post (2017). Colleges can get free doses of naloxone for students overdosing on heroin and other opioids. Retrieved 13 April 2017 from

[vii] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). Policy Impact: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses. Retrieved 7 July 2013 from

[viii] Ferrari, B., et al. (2003). Ecotoxicological impact of pharmaceuticals found in treated wastewaters: study of carbamazepine, clofibric acid, and diclofenac. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 55, 359- 370; Henschel, K.-P., et al. (1997). Environmental hazard assessment of pharmaceuticals. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 25, 220-225; Jones, O. A. H., et al. (2002). Aquatic environmental assessment of the top 25 English prescription pharmaceuticals. Water Research 36, 5013-5022; Hernando M.D., et al. (2006). Environmental risk assessment of pharmaceutical residues in wastewater effluents, surface waters and sediments. Talanta 69, 334-342.

[ix] Kolpin, D.W., et al. (2002). Pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams. Environmental Science & Technology, 36(6), 1202-1211.

[x] World Health Organization, Water Sanitation Health (2016). Information sheet: Pharmaceuticals in drinking-water. Retrieved 9 September 2016 from health/emerging/info_sheet_pharmaceuticals/en/; Associated Press (NA). An AP Investigation: Pharmaceuticals Found in Drinking Water, PHARMAWATER I: Pharmaceuticals found in drinking water, affecting wildlife and maybe humans. Retrieved on 9 September 2016 from http://hosted.; Harvard Medical School (2011). Harvard Health Letter: Drugs in the water. Retrieved on 9 September 2016 from http://www.