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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 kinds of 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, this program 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.
  • Take Back Your Meds: Located in Washington State, this program consists of over 270 health organizations, police stations, drugstores and other groups in Washington. The program is financed by pharmaceutical manufacturers and provides a statewide, secure medication return program for unwanted medications.
  • The American Medicine Chest Challenge: This program 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 help on the second Saturday of November each year in communities across the country. The initiative also seeks to increase education about substance use disorders.
  • Winnebago County Heroin Task Force: The Winnebago County, WI health department partnered with local police departments to create four permanent drug drop sites where county residents can dispose of unused medications. The sites are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Considerations for Implementation

In addition to reducing drug misuse and unintentional poisonings, drug disposal programs have had beneficial environmental effects such as reducing water pollution and improving water quality. These kinds of 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 make for good partnerships with law enforcement agencies.

Program Clearinghouse Example

Resources to Learn More

Drug Disposal Information
Provides resources including fact sheets, webinars, and information about the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 (“Disposal Act”). Also provides 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
A review of drug disposal programs links to evidence of effectiveness and sample programs demonstrating their use in communities.
Organization(s): County Health Rankings & Roadmaps
Date: 6/2015

Safe Disposal of Medicines
A consumer-focused site providing information on safe use of medicines, including how to safely store and dispose of unused medications. It also contains information on safe disposal of needles, syringes, and other sharps.
Organization(s): Food and Drug Administration