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National Prescription Drug Take Back Day Offers Safe Disposal of Unused Medications

Every day, 130 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. Rates of prescription drug abuse in the United States are alarmingly high with an estimated 16.7 million people using prescription drugs for a non-medical purpose in the last year. Of the non-medical users, nearly 70% obtained their pills from family and friends, a phenomenon known as diversion. Keeping unused, excess prescription pain medications in the home leaves households vulnerable to misuse, accidents and diversion, or the non-medical use of legally prescribed medications.

Northwestern Medicine is coming together with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to host collection sites for National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, April 27. The twice-a-year event provides a safe, convenient and responsible way to dispose of unused opioids and other prescription medications, while also educating the general public about the potential for misuse of medications.

This is the third time Northwestern Medicine and the DEA have come together to offer this community service. In October, more than 900 pounds of unused medications were collected at five Northwestern Medicine drug disposal sites.

From 10 am to 2 pm on Saturday, April 27, community members can safely dispose of their unused medications at six Northwestern Medicine sites. No liquids or sharps will be accepted:

  • Lavin Family Pavilion Driveway (with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago on the Northwestern Memorial Hospital campus)
    259 East Erie Street*
    Chicago, Illinois 60611
    *Drive-thru option available for disposal
  • Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital
    Bays Medical Building Entrance
    900 N. Westmoreland Road
    Lake Forest, Illinois 60045
  • Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care St. Charles (on the east side of the parking lot by Kirk Road)
    2900 Foxfield Road, Suite 100
    St. Charles, Illinois 60174
  • Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital (at the West parking lot across the street on Winfield Road)
    25 N. Winfield Road
    Winfield, IL 60190
  • Northwestern Medicine Valley West Hospital
    1302 North Main Street
    Sandwich, Illinois 60548

  • Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital

    (South of the main hospital in the Medical Records parking lot)
    2731 Sycamore Road

    DeKalb, Illinois 60115

Unused medications thrown in the trash can be retrieved and abused or illegally sold. If medications are flushed, they can contaminate the water supply. Proper disposal of unused drugs saves lives and protects the environment.

“National Prescription Drug Take Back Day addresses a vital public safety and public health issue and Northwestern Medicine is proud to again provide our community with both a safe disposal option and education on the issue of opioid abuse and prescription drug misuse,” said
Jonah Stulberg, MD, a general surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital who is leading Northwestern Medicine’s opioid reduction strategies. “Many people have a dangerous habit of holding onto unused pain medications for ‘just-in-case’ situations, but this is an inappropriate use of prescription medications. If you don’t use a full prescription, you should find a safe disposal option to prevent misuse or abuse of the medication. Appropriate disposal of unused medications is a critical component of curbing the opioid crisis.”

National Prescription Take Back Day is offered at locations across the country to give communities a chance to prevent pill abuse and theft by ridding their homes of potentially dangerous expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs. The disposal events are free and no questions asked.

At Northwestern Medicine efforts are under way to reduce the number of opioids providers prescribe while also offering safe disposal options for patients, particularly after surgeries.

“Surgical providers write nearly 10 percent of all opioid prescriptions and approximately 80 percent of the pills of those 28.3 million prescriptions go unused, leaving a staggering number of pills available for diversion and leaving them vulnerable to abuse or misuse,” said Dr. Stulberg. “Recognizing we had a responsibility to provide a safe disposal option to our patients, we launched an opioid take back program in 2017 for surgical patients. This program has since expanded across our hospital system to additional clinics and some public spaces within our hospitals.”

Since launching its opioid disposal program, Northwestern Medicine has collected more than 1,100 pounds of excess opioid pain pills and has expanded the program to five additional locations. In addition to safely disposing of these unused pills, Dr. Stulberg and his research team also used data collected from the patients to inform procedure-specific opioid prescribing guidelines to help surgeons determine the appropriate number of pills to prescribe depending on the kind of surgery.

For more information about the disposal of prescription drugs or to find Take Back Day event, go to