People all across the country will observe Red Ribbon Week Oct. 23-31. Red Ribbon Week is the nation's oldest and largest drug prevention awareness program. During this week, people take the time to raise awareness about drugs, including the proper use and disposal of prescription drugs. By wearing a red ribbon, people display their commitment to living drug free.

COVID-19 Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic produces many negative consequences. These includes anxiety, stress, depression, suicide, and diminished mental and physical well-being. Stay-at-home orders have limited access to recreational drugs of choice. However, as a result, individuals are looking for solace in prescription drugs, such as opioids, that are readily accessible inside the home. Drugs in the home can result in the abuse and misuse of prescription drugs, even among new users. COVID-19 is also more problematic for those suffering from drug dependency because of impaired physical health, such as respiratory problems.

Dispose Properly

New risks to human and environmental health call for an enhanced outreach to ensure the safe removal of unwanted and expired medications from households. Unfortunately, many people improperly dispose of unused pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). These products make their way into the environment by way of sewer systems or landfills. PPCPs travel through sewer systems to wastewater treatment facilities. Not all water treatment plants are equipped to completely remove such compounds from treated water. Therefore, these chemicals remain in the water, including public drinking water.

“Humans are responsible for the existence of PPCPs," said Karnita Garner, an Alabama Extension environmental specialist. "Therefore, it is our responsibility to remove them from the environment. One way to do that is to use prescription drop boxes."

Prescription drop boxes are one of the best ways to eliminate unwanted PPCPs, such as over-the-counter medication. People can contact their local police department or pharmacy to find a drop box in their area. People can also visit the Drug Enforcement Administrations's website or search for drug disposal sites on Google Maps.

“Make sure all prescription labels have been removed from pill bottles or containers before bringing them to a drop-off location,” Garner said.

Drug Take Back Days

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration has national drug take back days that occur on the fourth Saturday in April and October each year. During these days, many communities and businesses establish collection sites for people to bring unwanted drugs. In 2019, law enforcement agencies provided 6,174 drop-off locations and collected 882,919 pounds (441.5 tons) of unwanted and expired medication. Unfortunately, the spring 2020 Drug Take Back Day was canceled because of COVID-19. The good news is that the next drug take back day coincides with Red Ribbon Week on October 24. Visit the Take Back Day website to find a collection site near you.

Promote Red Ribbon Week

The following suggestions are great ways to promote Red Ribbon Week and to bring awareness to drug prevention:

• Wear a red ribbon during the week.

• Take the Lock Your Meds® pledge.

• Participate in a local drug take back program.

• Promote a drug-free lifestyle by lighting up your business in red.

• Display fact sheets and notices in your office.

• Sponsor a Red Ribbon Week activity (e.g., poster contest or fun run).

• Create a bulletin board display about Red Ribbon Week.

• Talk to your children about the dangers of drug abuse and improper drug disposal.

• Post a red ribbon photo on social media and use #DEARedRibbon.

• Share facts and engage in Red Ribbon Week activities with family, friends and colleagues.

• Participate in the Alabama 4-H Red Ribbon Week Virtual Poster Contest,

More Information

More information about environmental stewardship is available on the Alabama Extension website under Natural Resources.

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