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Medication drop boxes at pharmacies are a safe and secure way for people to dispose of unwanted drugs, but many people are unaware of them, a new study finds.
Medications placed in the drop boxes are collected and typically incinerated or disposed of as hazardous waste.
That avoids them being flushed down the toilet or thrown in the trash, where they pollute groundwater, rivers and oceans.
Since 2014, federal law has allowed retail pharmacies to set up drop boxes to collect unwanted medications year-round.
The authors asked customers how they dispose of unwanted medications and assessed pharmacist recommendations and attitudes about disposal of leftover drugs, as well as challenges in implementing proper disposal.
More than a third of customers in the study said they kept their unused medications at home. Their most common disposal methods were throwing the drugs in the trash (27.5%); flushing (15.8%); and using a drop box (8.3%).
The presence of a drop box at a pharmacy was associated with greater customer awareness of proper drug disposal and safer pharmacist recommendations to customers.
"The focus group brought up that consumer education wouldn't be successful until we have more drop box availability," said study author Amy Ehrhart, a doctoral student in the Earth, Environment and Society program at Portland State University, in Oregon.
"From their anecdotal experience, those drop boxes fill up quickly and then can't be used until they are emptied," she added in a university news release.
The focus group said cost was a major barrier to deploying drop boxes and that the pharmaceutical industry should shoulder the costs.
The findings will be published in the December issue of the journal Waste Management.
In 2019, Oregon and five other states approved a new law that requires drug makers to pay for and run statewide drug take-back programs. The program is expected to begin by July 2021.
"Legislation that requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to pay for disposal or at least provide some kind of funding to have options for disposal is really important," Ehrhart said.
For more on medication drop boxes, go to the AARP.
SOURCE: Portland State University, news release, Nov. 16, 2020
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