The dispensing of prescription medications, especially controlled substances such as narcotics, is tightly regulated by pharmacies and other government agencies. With that being said, there is a lack of oversight on how to discard these medications properly if they go unused. A national survey of United States adults found that nearly half of all patients with pain medication had or expected to have “leftover” medication (1). The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 68% of those who use pain medications non-medically got them from friends or family members (2). It is clear to see how keeping unused narcotics increases the chances of unwanted drug diversion.
Fortunately, there are several solutions to combat this problem. Many retail pharmacies now sell drug disposal systems commonly in the form of pouches or bottles. These systems are safe, effective, and convenient ways for patients to get rid of any unused or unwanted prescription medications without flushing them down the drain. Activated charcoal within the pouches or bottles renders the medications inactive when water is added to the container along with the medications. The containers should then be appropriately sealed, and can be thrown away with household trash. Another upside to these disposal systems is their usefulness for various drug formulations (tablets, capsules, liquids, and patches). Below are samples of at-home drug disposal systems that are easily used. Many drug manufacturers will donate these drug disposal systems at no cost, so ask your local pharmacy about them today!
Contributed by: Rebekah Dunham, Class of 2017
- Kennedy-Hendricks A, Gielen A, McDonald E, McGinty EE, Shields W, Barry CL. Medication Sharing, Storage, and Disposal Practices for Opioid Medications Among US Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(7):1027-1029. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.2543
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville