Let’s Make Every Day Drug Disposal Day

This April 27th will be the 17th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day — a day dedicated to encouraging us to bring the leftover and unused drugs in our medicine cabinet to a designated site for safe disposal.

I was a House member back in 2010 when Take Back Day got started. I supported it then and still do to this day.

According to its sponsor, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the most recent Take Back Day held last October offered nearly 6,000 collection sites and hauled in more than 900,000 pounds of unused or expired prescription and over-the-counter medications, bringing the total amount collected to date to almost 11 million pounds. That’s 5,000 tons of fewer drugs available to divert for potentially life-threatening misuse or to inappropriately flush into our water supply. Coupled with year-round collection kiosks in many communities today, we’ve come a commendably long way.

And yet, the opioid epidemic shows all of us, graphically and painfully, how much further and faster we have to go.

There are several sobering statistics. Approximately 1.4 billion opioid prescriptions were written between 2012 and 2017 – and up to about 70 percent of those opioids are believed to have been leftover and unused. For their most recent use, more than half of opioid misusers admit getting the drug from a family member or friend — in other words, from the enormous reservoir of dangerous medicines that should have been destroyed and disposed of, but never were.

And the most tragic number of all: We’re losing almost 130 lives to this crisis every day.

Take just one piece of the problem: the vast number of these medications prescribed for pain following surgery.

Two studies in JAMA Surgery are telling. The first, in 2017, found that among patients prescribed opioids following surgery, 67-92 percent reported having an unused, surplus supply.

The second, out just last month, reported on a study finding that when surgery patients were given an activated charcoal bag (Deterra Drug Deactivation System) for opioid deactivation and disposal at home, they were almost four times more likely to dispose of the medicines than those patients with no counsel or support. The study’s lead author concludes that, “We need everyday disposal options that address patients’ needs and break down common barriers for safe disposal through other means, such as bringing unneeded medications to take back drives or law enforcement locations that require a special trip and may make some patients uncomfortable.”

The at-home deactivation and disposal system used in the study is technology that didn’t exist when Take Back Day began, and it gives us the chance to leverage engagement in safe drug disposal — exponentially. Think what we could accomplish if every Take Back Day participant could share his or her commitment by taking home three disposal bags – one for a neighbor, a family member and a friend.

With hundreds of lives claimed each day, getting rid of these drugs just can’t wait. Today, enabling all Americans to practice effective, safe and easy at-home disposal every day of the year is an imperative we should all champion and support.


Mary Bono is a former U.S. Representative for California’s 45th Congressional District and co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse.

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