Last updated on July 12, 2022

Pharmacists are some of the most trusted professionals in the United States. Community pharmacies play a crucial role in the nationwide effort to educate the public about the importance of safe prescription drug disposal and provide access to regulatory compliant disposal solutions. A study conducted by Portland State University (PSU) found that an on-site disposal option at the pharmacy could help. “The presence of a dropbox at a pharmacy was associated with greater customer awareness of proper drug disposal and safer pharmacist recommendations to customers.”

Pharmacies Are Uniquely Positioned to Provide Education

One of the best ways to keep prescription drugs off the streets is to get unused pills out of medicine cabinets. SAMHSA reports that the non-medical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD) by teens is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States. A 2020 Kansas student survey found that 74% of teens who reported misusing prescription medications got them through friends or family.

More public education about the safe storage and disposal of prescription drugs can help prevent this type of drug diversion. Community pharmacies play a key role in this effort.

An article published in Pharmacy Times in September 2021 noted that pharmacy employees are “pivotal in closing the gap in patients’ lack of knowledge about this public health challenge.” Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are often the last medical personnel patients speak to about their treatment regimes. So, they can provide crucial guidance and help facilitate “proper storage of used and disposal of unused medications, particularly opioids.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. A 2019 study conducted by researchers at UC San Francisco found gaps in pharmacy employees’ knowledge about safe medication disposal. Researchers contacted “nearly 900” California pharmacies to ask how to dispose of two leftover medications – the antibiotic Bactrim and Hycet, a liquid pain reliever that contains an opioid compound. They found “that just 10 percent followed the FDA’s preferred recommendation to take back unused medications from their customers.

Medication Drop Boxes in Pharmacies Increase Awareness and Educational Opportunities

Reporting on the PSU study, Pharmacy Today noted that many pharmacists seem “unaware of the implications of different drug disposal options.” However, researchers found that staffers in pharmacies with medication drop boxes consistently recommended safe disposal options to patients: either the use of the on-site drop box, mailback methods, or DEA takeback events. However, pharmacies without an on-site collection system made inconsistent recommendations, with some suggesting that patients throw unused prescription medications in the trash or flush them.

Pharmacy staff training and education on federal medication disposal recommendations can make a difference. Thirty percent of survey respondents said they would ask a pharmacist if they had questions about drug disposal.

“I think the biggest takeaway for pharmacists is that they can have a positive impact on consumer drug disposal behavior in short interactions,” said Ehrhart. “If they are able to shift messaging away from recommendations to flush and throw drugs in the trash and instead direct consumers to find local drug take-back boxes, which provide a year-round safe disposal option, this has the potential to improve drug disposal practices on a wider scale.”

Sharps Compliance Offers Both On-Site Collection and Solutions

Safe storage and disposal of drugs (particularly opioids) helps protect children and pets from accidental poisoning and prevent drug diversion. Sharps Compliance is a leading provider of medication disposal solutions for healthcare providers, retailers, and consumers.

  • MedSafe Medication Collection Receptacles: Our receptacles (or “kiosks”) are located in over 5,000 community locations across the country. These easy-to-operate systems accept controlled (Schedules II-V), non-controlled, and over-the-counter medicines. MedSafe comes in 38- and 18-gallon sizes, available for sale or lease to facilities registered as DEA-collectors who manage the collection program. When the inner liner is full of collected medications, return it using the prepaid shipping label via common carrier.
  • TakeAway Medication Recovery Systems: These prepaid mailback envelopes allow ultimate users to mail controlled substances (Schedules II-V) and non-controlled medications directly to our treatment facility for incineration, meeting the DEA’s non-retrievable standard. They’re available in bulk packaging or with attractive display cases for retail use.

When you install a MedSafe receptacle in your pharmacy, we’ll help you spread the word. You’ll have access to flyers, posters, postcards, and other information needed to train employees and provide accurate information to your customers about the need for safe, secure prescription medication disposal.

Contact us to learn more about our affordable, regulatory-compliant medication disposal solutions.

Wanda Voigt holds a BA in Nursing from Texas Woman’s University and a BBA in Business Management from Texas A&M University. In Fall 2021, Wanda will begin her Master Jurisprudence in Health Law and Policy at Texas A&M University. Wanda has over 20 years of clinical practice in both hospital and private practice practicing in various specialties.

As the Director of Regulatory Compliance, Wanda assists Sharps’ customers in evaluating current federal and state-specific medical and pharmaceutical waste regulations, implementing compliant regulated medical and pharmaceutical waste management programs and processes, and developing training programs for both internal and external customers.

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