Public awareness is critical to ensure that leftover drugs are disposed of safely and properly. Successful education starts with a clear, concise, and accurate message.
Federal, state, and local governments nationwide agree that drug take-back (collection kiosks and mail-back envelopes) represent the best way to remove unwanted medications from household medicine cabinets. They identify trash disposal as a last resort.
Convenient collection locations – at pharmacies, police stations, and other authorized collection locations – save more lives and protect the environment more effectively than trash disposal. Government agencies and non-profits are working to make take-back programs available around the country by educating pharmacies about the benefits of drug take-back—both for their businesses and for their communities—and encouraging them to collect.
Advocates also seek sustainable funding for these initiatives by passing extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation, which makes drug manufacturers responsible for funding and running safe and convenient drug take-back programs with government oversight. Several U.S. cities, counties, and states have passed such legislation, and many countries around the world have also taken this approach.
Threat to the Proper Message
Unfortunately, some drug companies promote trash disposal as an equally effective drug disposal solution. This messaging helps to minimize their role in addressing the opioid epidemic. Whenever there is pending pharmaceutical EPR legislation in a state, the industry steps up its promotion of trash disposal.
We all share the goal of protecting public health by reducing substance abuse and drug overdose, and we recognize that there are times when trash disposal becomes a necessity for getting leftover medications out of the home. However, even when mixed with kitty litter or coffee grounds, drugs are not rendered irretrievable or fully undesirable, and remain accessible to children, pets, and addicts. Studies also show that, when put in the trash, over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs reach waterways and can contaminate the drinking water supply, harming aquatic life and potentially human health.
The pharmaceutical industry’s strategy reduces their cost compared to manufacturer-funded take-back programs, but encourages an unsafe disposal practice that runs counter to government policy. This inconsistent messaging has confused the public, policy makers, and others, which can lead to improper drug storage or disposal, and contributes to apathy in the face of this serious problem.
It is our job to ensure the proper drug disposal message is spread widely across the nation and becomes ubiquitous.