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
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
- 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
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Diversion
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
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
Organization(s): Food and Drug Administration