15 October 2020
Safe disposal of unused or expired prescription medications is the collective responsibility of the community. However, many healthcare patients don’t fully recognize the importance of disposing of unwanted drugs properly.
As we prepare for the next Drug Take Back Day on October 24th, the following sections examine how these events and other similar strategies can ensure safe disposal and mitigate risk of diversion and abuse.
National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is an event hosted twice per year by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), during which individuals can safely and conveniently dispose of leftover or expired medications. The event is designed to encourage proper drug disposal by making the process easy and anonymous. Education about the dangers of abusing medications is also offered as part of the event.
The DEA has hosted 18 National Drug Take Back Days over the years, with the most recent event in October 2019 involving nearly 5,000 law enforcement partners and 6,200 collection sites across the country. More than 400 tons of prescription drugs were collected during October 2019’s Take Back Day.
In addition to DEA take back days, communities often have collection kiosks at sites like retailers, hospitals and police stations that are available year-round.
Participating in a drug take back day is a safe way for individuals to get rid of unwanted medications, which is an essential step in helping to combat the opioid crisis. Leftover prescription drugs, especially those related to pain management, present several risks to public safety.
According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 10 million Americans misuse controlled prescription drugs, with the majority obtaining drugs from family and friends, either by asking for them or via the home medicine cabinet. Stericycle’s 2019 Drug Take Back Survey further reinforced this point, indicating one in 10 Americans have offered or given their unused prescription drugs to friends or family members for either medical or recreational use. Even if respondents didn’t share the drugs, 20% have held on to them because they weren’t sure what to do with them. The longer an unused prescription is stored within reach of others, the higher the chances the drug may be diverted for improper use.
Misuse of prescription painkillers is concerning, because it is easy for users to become addicted, resulting in serious illness and even death. Prescription painkillers can also serve as a gateway to illicit drugs such as heroin. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 86% of urban injection drug users had used opioid pain relievers non-medically prior to using heroin and that their initiation into non-medical use came primarily from family, friends or personal prescriptions available in the home.
In addition to limiting the risk of drug diversion, participating in a drug take back event can also help safeguard the environment. Drugs brought to an event are sent to a processing facility where they are destroyed through incineration. Since the hazardous elements in the drugs are fully neutralized, they cannot pollute waterways or leach into the ground surrounding landfills, which could happen if a person flushes unused drugs down the toilet or throws them away in the regular trash.
The DEA hosts its take back days every October and April. Before the next scheduled date, individuals should check to see whether their local law enforcement agency or pharmacy is participating and take any unused drugs over for disposal.
There are also authorized collectors that take medications all year round. As of April 2019, 70% of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a permanent drug disposal collection site. To help people easily identify the nearest location, the DEA has an online database, which is searchable by zip code or city/state. The agency updates its list frequently to give people the latest information about approved disposal locations.
Whether an individual is attending a take back event or dropping off drugs at year-round collection sites, they should be sure to bring unused or expired medications in their prescription bottles or in a clear, sealed bag. They should remove any labels on the bottles or use a permanent marker to black out personal health information, including name, address and health insurance data.
Drug Take Back Envelopes
Stericycle has several drug disposal solutions that make drug disposal easier for the public. Our pre-addressed Seal&SendSM medication mail back envelopes hold up to eight ounces of pharmaceutical waste, and once sealed, can be dropped into any USPS mailbox. Pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare organizations may consider giving these envelopes to patients when prescribing opioids to facilitate proper disposal of unused doses.
Pharmaceutical Collection Kiosk Program
Another option is our medication collection kiosks, which can be placed in public DEA-registered locations within a community, such as police departments, pharmacies, community health centers, and so on. Individuals can anonymously drop off unwanted drugs in the kiosks at any time.
Healthcare Drug Disposal Program
In addition to providing resources for individuals, Stericycle also works with healthcare organizations to ensure their employees safely handle and dispose of controlled substance waste within the healthcare setting. We offer specially designed containers that immediately deactivate unused or leftover controlled drugs on contact and ensure they cannot be retrieved once discarded. While not required by the DEA, these containers meet the administration’s expectations for proper controlled substance disposal.
Learn more about how Stericycle is helping healthcare consumers and organizations tackle the opioid crisis.
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