One method of preventing addiction linked to prescription medications is to make drugs less available. To date, much of the focus has been on limiting the amount of drugs prescribed. Another approach is to remove unused prescription drugs from homes to limit the risk of improper usage. Statistics tell us that leaving unused prescriptions in the home can have dire consequences. Between 2008 and 2013, the majority of infant and toddler deaths in Virginia occurred because a young child ingested prescription medications, the majority of which were controlled substances.1 While some medications can be discarded in a household waste bin (if certain precautions are taken), a better option is to take unused medications, and particularly controlled substances, to a collector registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Authorized sites can include retail, hospital or clinic pharmacies, and law enforcement agencies. These sites often have collection receptacles, sometimes called “drop boxes,” to assist people in safely disposing of unused medicines. Prior to collecting drugs in Virginia, an authorized collector must submit three pieces of information to the state Board of Pharmacy:
- The name, address, and license number, if applicable, of the facility;
- The intended method or methods of collection (collection receptacle or mail-back program); and
- The signature of the pharmacist in charge, or the director of a narcotic treatment program.
While this regulation has been in place for some time, the Board of Pharmacy’s website lists just 27 drug collection sites. The image below illustrates the distribution of those sites. The areas of the state with the highest rates of opioids prescribed per person (Southside and Southwest Virginia) are also the areas with a sparse distribution of collection locations.2 This presents an opportunity for health systems and partner organizations to help make drop boxes more available. A pharmacy collecting drugs for disposal is not required to collect information on people disposing of drugs. It therefore stands to reason that people would be more likely to safely dispose of unused medications if they are made aware that anonymous options for drug disposal are available in their community.