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Proper Drug Disposal Programs

The use of prescription opioids like morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone can be beneficial for pain management and can be legally prescribed. Although opioids can be highly addictive, not everyone will develop harmful or problematic behaviors around using these medications. Unused portions of these medicines need to be disposed of properly in order to avoid misuse. Drug disposal programs prevent poisoning of children, keep medicines from entering streams and rivers, and deter misuse by adults and teenagers. Proper drug disposal programs are recommended by experts as a way to reduce drug misuse as well as unintentional poisoning.

Proper drug disposal programs take expired, unwanted, or unused medications in order to responsibly dispose of them. Programs can use in-person drop-offs, mail-in services, or permanent secure collection sites. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is responsible for the regulation of disposal of controlled substances. Locally, drug disposal programs often partner with law enforcement agencies in their efforts.

Examples of Proper Drug Disposal Programs

  • Operation Medicine Cabinet, based in Broward County, Florida, encourages residents to empty their medicine cabinet of used and expired prescription medication immediately. Participants receive a five-dollar gift card to local stores and pharmacies after dropping off the unwanted prescriptions.
  • The Take Back Your Meds program, located in Washington State, consists of over 270 health organizations, police stations, drugstores and other groups. The program is financed by pharmaceutical manufacturers and provides a statewide, secure medication return program for unwanted medications.
  • The American Medicine Chest Challenge is a community based public health initiative with law enforcement partnership that provides access nationwide to disposal of unwanted medication. The drop-off event is held on the second Saturday of November each year in communities across the country. The initiative also seeks to increase education about substance use disorders.

Considerations for Implementation

In addition to reducing drug misuse and unintentional poisonings, drug disposal programs have shown beneficial environmental effects such as reducing water pollution and improving water quality. Drug disposal programs are typically good first-efforts for communities becoming involved in drug use issues. There is relatively little controversy associated with these programs, and they provide opportunities for good partnerships with law enforcement agencies.

Program Clearinghouse Example

Resources to Learn More

Drug Disposal Information
Provides information and resources on drug disposal and the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 (“Disposal Act”). Includes a searchable directory of authorized public controlled substance disposal locations.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Diversion Control

Proper Drug Disposal Programs
Discusses effective drug disposal programs to reduce illicit drug use and unintentional poisoning and identifies state legislation on proper drug disposal.
Organization(s): County Health Rankings & Roadmaps
Date: 6/2015

Safe Disposal of Medicines
Provides information on the safe use of medicines, including how to safely store and dispose of unused medications, and contains information on the safe disposal of needles, syringes, and other sharps.
Organization(s): Food and Drug Administration