Pharmaceuticals going into dispenser

November 19, 2020

Curbing the Opioid Epidemic through Proper Drug Disposal

Curbing the Opioid Epidemic through Proper Drug Disposal

A primary element fueling the growing opioid crisis is the diversion of prescription painkillers (including oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine) from the intended user, to friends or family members who were not prescribed the medication. Although limiting the prescription of these medications is critical, so too is ensuring safe and secure disposal of unused or expired drugs. Because opioids in the home medicine cabinet are a major risk for new users who misuse prescription drugs, Stericycle recently conducted its 2nd annual drug takeback survey to help better understand Americans’ prescription drug sharing and disposal habits. Below, we’ve outlined some of the top takeaways and learnings from the survey:

Americans are not disposing of unused drugs right away. More than one-third (37%) of those surveyed hold on to their leftover medications for future use, either because they are afraid their illness will return (35%) or because they don’t know how to properly get rid of the drugs (18%). As a result, nearly half (47%) of respondents currently have one to three bottles of unused prescriptions in their medicine cabinets— a number that has risen since last year. For those who don’t keep the drugs, they may choose to give them to someone else. One in 10 people admit they’ve offered or given their unused medications to a friend or family member for medical or recreational use.

When drugs are disposed of, they are often done so incorrectly. A significant majority of respondents (71%) indicate they have not been instructed on best methods of throwing away unused or expired medications. This lack of knowledge leads to unsustainable disposal with close to one in three (29%) people admitting they have placed leftover drugs in the trash and approximately one in four (26%) having flushed them down the drain or toilet. Such actions threaten the environment by allowing pharmaceutical contaminants to leach into waterways and drinking water.

Americans want more convenient drug disposal options. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed believe having a safe and secure way to get rid of leftover prescriptions would help combat the opioid epidemic.  86% indicate they would feel comfortable asking their doctor or pharmacist about correct disposal methods. Moreover, 8 out of 10 say if their local pharmacy had a free medication drop-off kiosk, they would use it to dispose of unused prescriptions.


Partnering to Support Safe Consumer Drug Disposal

Stericycle offers comprehensive drug disposal tools and education to health care and community organizations across the country. Our Seal&Send envelopes and takeback kiosks provide safe and anonymous outlets for anyone to dispose of unwanted medications, including opioids. By making these solutions available to patients, health care organizations can build awareness and encourage the disposal of dangerous drugs in a timely manner. Working together, we can mitigate some of the risks around opioids and improve the health and safety of patients, communities and the environment. For more information on Stericycle’s drug disposal solutions, click here.  

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