Utilization of prescription drugs has substantially increased over the past decade. As a result, the number of unused medications in the home is also increasing. In a review article published in June 2019 by Makki and colleagues, the authors describe numerous reasons why medications are wasted and accumulate in households across the world.
The most common reason (50%) for unused drugs in homes was nonadherence to prescribed medications. Additionally, death and changes to a medication regimen were among the top reasons for accumulation and drug wastage. The study identified nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as one of the most frequently unused medications. Disposal of expired drugs by the public typically occurred via the trash or toilet, and a majority of unused drugs were not properly disposed of due to a lack of regulation (depending on country), public unawareness, carelessness, or illiteracy. The authors highlighted the need for education, policies, and public awareness as it relates to medication wastage, as well as empowerment of patients to take responsibility for adherence, medication wastage, and proper drug disposal.
In the United States, several federal agencies, including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the FDA, have dedicated resources to provide safe means for drug disposal. In 2010, the DEA began an anonymous National Prescription Drug Take Back program designed to reduce the potential threat of children and teens misusing or abusing unwanted, unused, or expired prescription drugs from homes. As of 2020, the program has collected over 11 million pounds of expired, unused, or unwanted prescription medications. In addition, the DEA began accepting vaping devices and cartridges in October 2019. The Take Back program occurs across the nation on a biannual basis, in October and April, with the next event scheduled for April 25, 2020.
The DEA also allows facilities and businesses to register as authorized drug-collection locations, providing the public with a place to dispose of unwanted or expired prescription medications. Retail pharmacies, hospital or clinic pharmacies, and law enforcement agencies/facilities may serve as authorized collection locations within the community. Depending on the location, a stationary collection receptacle (drop-off box) or a mail-back program may be offered for the safe disposal of medications, including controlled substances.
Local pharmacies may also partner with reverse distributors to ensure their customers have a convenient way to dispose of unused, unwanted, or expired prescription and nonprescription medications while maintaining compliance with the DEA and other federal agencies. By providing this service to the community, pharmacists can not only educate patients on the importance of medication adherence, but also provide a means for safe disposal of drugs, if needed.
The public may find a local authorized disposal location via the DEA website, https://apps2.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubdispsearch/spring/main?execution=e2s1, or by searching “drug disposal near me” or “medication disposal near me” in Google Maps. If no location is identified, they can also call the DEA Diversion Control Division Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539 for more information.
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