April 27, 2018

Flushing, Sharing, Reusing and More: Stericycle Study Exposes Americans' Opioid and Prescription Drug Habits

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – April 27, 2018 – Despite one in four Americans (27 percent) admitting they’re most concerned about the U.S. government solving the nation’s opioid epidemic, just over half (52 percent) believe that the opioid epidemic can actually be stopped.

That’s according to a recent consumer study, “The Opioid Epidemic and Unused Prescriptions,” conducted by Stericycle, Inc. (NASDAQ: SRCL), a leading provider of highly specialized compliance-based healthcare and waste solutions.


Among the 1,200 U.S. adults surveyed, one in four (27 percent) do not believe the epidemic can be solved, but the majority (68 percent) agree that having access to safe and secure disposal methods for leftover or unused opioid drugs would help combat the epidemic. In fact, without the knowledge or access to proper disposal methods, consumers admit to keeping and sharing unused opioids with friends and family members.


Forty-two percent of Americans currently have one to three bottles of unused prescriptions, including opioids, in their medicine cabinet followed by nine percent with four to six bottles, three percent with more than 10 bottles and two percent with seven to 10 bottles. With high volumes of unused prescriptions on hand, nearly 15 percent of Americans admit they’ve offered or given their unused opioids to a friend or family member, and one in four (25 percent) admit they’ve been offered or given unused opioids by a friend or family member for either medical or recreational use.


“Solving opioid addiction in America is a complex issue. But preventing prescription opioids from getting into unintended hands is an important and overlooked step in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” said Charles Alutto, CEO of Stericycle, Inc. “The only way to do this is for companies to join healthcare workers, government, community activists and addiction specialists in creating policies and programs that prevent prescription opioids from going beyond the intended patient. This study shows that consumers need more education on how to handle and dispose of leftover opioids, and this is another critical step that communities, medical professionals and lawmakers should consider to help stop the spread of opioids.”

Additional findings from the Stericycle study show:

  • Americans surveyed are reusing and sharing prescriptions for medical and recreational use. Nearly one in three (30 percent) Americans admit to keeping leftover prescriptions for future use, with Gen Zs, Millennials and Baby Boomers agreeing that the fear of an illness returning is the top reason they keep unused prescriptions. However, when compared to Baby Boomers, Millennials are more than twice as likely to share unused prescriptions with a friend or family member, and 33 percent more likely to have used an opioid recreationally in the last six months. Additionally, men are 57 percent more likely than women to keep unused pills for recreational use.
  • Millennials aren’t concerned about sharing leftover opioids. While most Americans (74 percent) believe that people sharing and selling their unused prescriptions, including opioids, is contributing to the growth of the opioid epidemic, Millennials are 68 percent less likely than Baby Boomers to agree that sharing or selling their unused prescriptions is a contributing factor.
  • The potential for creating environmental harm isn’t stopping Americans from flushing or tossing out unused opioids. Despite the majority of Americans (61 percent) expressing concern that flushing painkillers, like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, etc., could pollute their drinking water and public waterways, half of all Americans admit to flushing (25 percent) or tossing out unused prescriptions (25 percent) – signaling that Americans tend to dispose of pharmaceutical waste as if it were just another piece of common household trash. Baby Boomers (71 percent) are more concerned than Millennials (57 percent) and Gen Zs (55 percent) about the environmental effects of flushing painkillers. From a household viewpoint, women are nearly 20 percent more likely than men to flush unused prescription pills down the drain or toilet, and men are more likely to toss leftover prescriptions in the trash.
  • American consumers need more education on how to handle leftover opioids. Fifteen percent of Americans admit they hold on to unused prescriptions because they don’t know how to dispose of them, and 83 percent admit they’ve never participated in a “drug takeback program.”
  • More involvement and funding are needed to help collect unused opioids. The majority of Americans (78 percent) believe their pharmacy, hospital or doctor should help collect unused prescriptions from patients, and 39 percent would be most comfortable giving back unused opioids to their pharmacist for disposal. However, most Americans (66 percent) would not be willing to pay a fee to safely dispose of an opioid they have been prescribed.

For more information about Stericycle and “The Opioid Epidemic and Unused Prescriptions” report, click here to visit the report page.


About Stericycle, Inc.
Stericycle, Inc., a U.S. based business-to-business services company operating in 21 countries, is focused on solutions that protect people and brands, promote health and safeguard the environment. For more information about Stericycle, please visit www.stericycle.com.

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