Safely disposing of prescription medication is an important step in deterring the abuse of leftover drugs. By removing old and discarded medication from the streets, the risks of abuse can be dramatically reduced.

Yet many leading pharmaceutical companies have resisted persistent calls to pay for drug recycling services. In the absence of assistance from those companies, individual pharmacy retailers are now taking matters into their own hands and taking strides to make drug disposal easier for consumers.

As just one example, Rite Aid has initiated a partnership with Google that will make safe drug disposal and recycling stations more easily located through online searches. Using Google Maps, customers can find disposal locations by looking for “medication disposal” or other intuitive search terms. 550 disposal units for medication are now searchable through Google Maps.

Meanwhile, in 2018, Rite Aid had announced plans to install 100 new disposal units in their stores nationwide. The Chief Operating Officer of Rite Aid Corporation, Bryan Everett, said in the company’s statement that this effort is directly tied to their ongoing work against prescription drug abuse.

Rite Aid and the Rite Aid Foundation have both contributed to Prescription Drug Safety programs through their education and prevention services, which include the KidCents program. This program provides educational services to promote public health and addiction prevention to high school students in more than 400 schools throughout the United States. The pharmacy chain also offers DisposeRx packets, which contain a powder that is biodegradable and can dissolve drugs for safe disposal. Mandatory counseling for opioid prescriptions and additional training for pharmacists on opioid abuse are additional elements of the company’s efforts to resist the issues of opioid addiction.

Improper disposal of prescription medications can lead to a variety of significant issues. Prescription drug drop off-sites and awareness days are increasingly being promoted in law enforcement offices and public health buildings throughout the country. Anecdotally, many stories about drug addiction begin with teens or adults finding and experimenting with leftover drugs that they find. Unused or expired medications, especially opioids, can lead to temptation and abuse. An article published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal reports that 15% of teenagers surveyed had abused prescription medicine, most commonly opioids or stimulants. The single most common way teenagers initially obtain drugs like these is from a relative’s leftover prescription.

Another problematic trend is the unsafe disposal of prescription medication. One study published in the Journal of International Medical Research in 2018 pointed to the proven presence of traces of pharmaceutical drugs in water supplies. Incorrect disposal procedures, such as flushing drugs down a drain, can cause those drug compounds to pollute water. Mood stabilizers, diuretics, and even blood pressure medication were found in 90% of the samples in one study, posing dangers for aquatic animals and water system health.

Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that, in 2017, as many as 33% of prescribed drugs were not taken. Oversupply and overprescribing practices are complicated issues that can often be traced back to pharmaceutical companies. Multiple lawsuits and community efforts have attempted to pass the bill for drug disposal services to the major pharmaceutical companies. Regrettably, the largest organized bodies who create and distribute prescription drugs have resisted and countersued, effectively bringing these efforts to a halt.

Locating Safe Medication Disposal Units

Safe disposal for prescription drugs should be a priority for conscientious citizens who want to protect their homes, families and the environment. It is easier than ever to locate and access prescription drug disposal units.

  • If you are near one of the units whose data is included in the new Google Maps developments, simply ask Google to find a drug disposal near you.
  • You can use the new Google Recover Together site to find prescription drug disposal locations.
  • The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has a simple locator for drug disposal on their website. Click here and enter your zip code or city and state to find the unit nearest to you.
  • Your local police station or public health building probably has a prescription drug drop off unit. These are easy to locate by simply searching your city name and the relevant entity.

If you or someone you know it struggling with prescription drug abuse or addiction, there are many resources to find help for recovery.