October 28 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

Many of us have old prescription medicines we no longer need in our cabinets, or old expired over the counter medicines. Taking expired medications isn’t safe, and storing unneeded medication increases the risk a child could get into the medicines and be poisoned. Other medications are sometimes abused, and these could be taken by teenagers at risk for substance abuse. In order to help people dispose of medicines safely, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is holding an National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on October 28. The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day has a search for collection sites near you.

While it’s best to get rid of old medicines with a prescription drug take back program, if you need to you can dispose of them other ways. The Food and Drug Administration has directions on how to safety throw away old medicines, and has a list of medicines that they recommend flushing. Medicines on the “flush list” are especially dangerous because they are easy to overdose on, and some are frequently abused. If you have one of the medicines on the “flush list” and no longer need it, it is best to get rid of it immediately by flushing it down the toilet instead of waiting for a drug take back event.

FDA Reports Some Pain Products Contain Hidden Ingredients

The FDA has found that multiple dietary supplements or herbal remedies intended to treat pain from arthritis or other conditions contain ingredients that are not listed. This can be dangerous because of side effects, drug interactions, or potential for overdose if the person is taking other medications that contain those hidden ingredients.  If you have taken a product of this type and think it caused side effects, you can report those at the FDA’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program.

Be cautious when shopping for supplements and herbal remedies. These products are not approved by the FDA, so may not contain the ingredients listed at the stated amounts, or can contain unlisted ingredients. You can get more information on supplements and how to choose them safely at the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.

Keeping Indoor Air Clean During Wildfires 

Wildfire smoke can carry long distances and persist for days. Breathing wildfire smoke is bad for your health, causing breathing problems and aggravating long-term conditions like high blood pressure. Children, people with chronic lung and heart conditions, and the elderly are at increased risk for health effects. While you can help protect yourself by staying indoors, when smoke lingers in an area, smoke particles can move into indoors air. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep your indoor air clean.  

  • If you have an HVAC system, run the air conditioner or fan to recirculate air through the filter. Use a high efficiency filter (rated MERV-13 or higher) and replace the filters as directed. Learn about your HVAC system and use the settings that will keep the fan running (“On” rather than “Auto”) and recirculate air without bringing in more outdoor air. If your system has a fresh air option, close the intake. If you have a window air conditioner, close the outdoor air damper, and make sure the seal between the air conditioner and window is tight.  
  • If you do not have an air conditioner, keep windows closed, and on hot days consider going to a public air-conditioned space or cooling center. Locate a cooling center near you by calling 2-1-1.   
  • Use a portable air cleaner. The best type uses a HEPA filter. Do not use a system with an ozonizer or ionizer unless you can turn it off. These settings can generate chemicals that irritate your lungs. If you can’t get a portable air cleaner, consider a DIY air cleaner.  
  • Create a clean air room. Sometimes it’s easier to try to keep the air in one room of a house clean rather than trying to keep the entire house’s air clean. If any members of your household are especially sensitive to smoke, they may benefit from a clean air room.  
  • Avoid household activities that pollute the air. Many normal household tasks, like cooking and cleaning, can temporarily generate airborne particles that can worsen indoor air quality. Do not fry food or use wood-burning stoves, gas stoves or furnaces, or propane. Do not clean with chemical cleaners. Avoid sweeping and vacuuming.  

Fires Lower Outdoor Air Quality in Virginia

In much of Virginia outdoor air quality is low due to smoke particles from wildfires in Canada being brought in by the wind, reaching as far south as North Carolina. A large landfill fire in Fairfax County on June 6 also contributed to air quality declines in that area, with smoke widespread over I-95. The primary components of the smoke haze are tiny particles called PM2.5, which are less than 2.5 micrometers across. These are small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs, and even be absorbed into the blood. These can cause breathing problems for people with asthma or other lung diseases, and can raise blood pressure. In some cases breathing air with high levels of PM 2.5 can cause irregular heartbeat or even heart attacks. You can check your local air quality and get information about air quality and health at AirNow. See the AirNow Guide for Particle Pollution for steps to take when air quality is low.

Children, older adults, and people with chronic diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and heart disease are more sensitive and should be especially careful. When air quality is low, try to spend less time outdoors, don’t exercise strenuously, and take breaks during outdoor activity. If you notice eye or lung irritation, go indoors. You can help protect yourself by wearing an N95 respirator while you are outside.

While indoors, keep doors and windows closed to keep outside air from coming in. You can run your HVAC fan to recirculate air through the HVAC filter and help to remove particles. If you have a room HEPA filter, these are very effective at cleaning room air. Filters with ozonizers or ionizers are not necessary, since these can generate chemicals that can irritate your lungs and eyes.

Visit our Smoke Exposure factsheet for more information on how to protect yourself from smoke in outdoors air.

April 22 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

The US Department of Justice has set aside April 22 as National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.  Many of us have old, partly used up bottles of prescription medicines in our cabinets. These medicines can be dangerous for children who might get into them, and if expired can be dangerous for anyone to take. Having multiple bottles of unneeded medicine also increases your chances of mixing bottles up and taking the wrong medicine or the wrong dose. Instead of throwing these medicines in the trash or flushing them down the toilet, you can turn them in to an authorized collector who can safely dispose of them. You can visit the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day website to find a collection site near you.

While its best for most medicines to return them to an authorized collector, in the case of some especially dangerous medicines if you can’t turn them in right away when you no longer need them, you should dispose of them immediately by flushing them down the toilet.  This includes medicines that are frequently misused like fentanyl or oxycodone. You can check the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “flush list” to see if your medicine should be immediately turned over to an authorized collector or flushed when no longer needed.

Authorized collectors are available to take old medicines, including over-the-counter medicines, any time of the year. You can get more information on our fact sheet about leftover medicine.

DEA Public Safety Alert on Xylazine Mixed with Fentanyl

Dangers of Xylazine

The US Drug Enforcement Agency issued a public safety alert today about an increase in the trafficking of fentanyl mixed with xylazine. Xylazine is a veterinary drug used to tranquilize horses, and is not approved for use in humans. In the past few years xylazine has begun to turn up as an additive in many street drugs. It has been found mixed with fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and other drugs.  It is sometimes sold alone as “tranq”.

Someone who takes xylazine can get groggy and pass out, and can have low blood pressure, slowed heartbeat, and slowed breathing.  This can cause a person to die if they overdose. Xylazine and fentanyl taken together are especially dangerous, since both drugs slow down breathing and can cause someone to stop breathing completely. Overdose with opioids like fentanyl can be reversed with naloxone (Narcan), but naloxone does not work for xylazine overdose. Xylazine can also cause skin ulcers when it is injected. This can cause deep sores that do not heal and sometimes require amputation.

How to Get Help

If you or someone you know has been using xylazine or other drugs, you can call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for information on substance abuse and resources to help quit. You can also get information about addiction treatment programs in your area at FindTreatment.gov.

The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services has information about substance abuse, services for people who use drugs or alcohol and could become pregnant or could become pregnant, and training in how to use naloxone for opioid overdose.

The Virginia Department of Social Services has information for people who want help with substance abuse and are on Medicaid or uninsured.


January is National Radon Action Month

EPA has designated January as National Radon Action Month. Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is released from rocks under the ground. Radon rises through the ground and can enter homes, where it is found at the highest levels in low areas like basements and the first floor. Breathing high levels of radon over a long period of time increases your risk of lung cancer, especially for people who also smoke.

You can test your home for radon to find out if the levels are too high. If a home does have high levels of radon, you can have a radon reduction system installed that will collect gases rising out of the ground and exhaust them from the home. The Virginia Department of Health Indoor Radon Program provides radon testing kits for only a $3 shipping fee.

Not all Ultraviolet Wands are Safe

Many consumers use ultraviolet (UV) wands to disinfect surfaces and kill germs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that certain brands of UV wands  that may expose the user and nearby person to unsafe levels of ultraviolet-C (UV-C) radiation which may cause injury to the skin, eyes, or both after a few seconds of use. For a list of UV wand brands that may cause harm and to learn more please visit the FDA Safety Communication.

National Poison Prevention Week 2022

This week is National Poison Prevention Week. People of all ages are at risk of poisoning, from things as varied as insect stings, medication overdoses, eating or touching poisonous plants, accidental exposure to household cleaners, or recreational drugs. If you or a loved one may have been poisoned, you can call 1-800-222-1222 to reach local Poison Center staff for advice. Poison Center staff are experts in poisoning, and can help you determine whether you should seek medical help.  Add the National Poison Centers hotline to your contacts list to be able to rapidly contact poison experts no matter where you are in the country.

January is Radon Action Month

EPA has set aside January as Radon Action Month. Radon is a tasteless, odorless, radioactive gas that can slowly seep out of the ground and build up in basements and ground levels of dwellings. High levels of radon in homes are linked to lung cancer, especially in smokers. Fortunately, radon levels can be reduced by installing a radon mitigation system. The first step is to find out whether radon levels in your home are too high, and the best time to do that is in the winter when windows and doors are kept closed and radon levels are highest. To help Virginia residents protect themselves from radon, the Virginia Department of Health is providing $3 radon test kits.  For more information on radon and to order your test kit, visit VDHRadon.org. You can also visit EPA’s radon page and the Virginia Department of Health’s Indoor Radon Program page.