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In 2017, over 4 billion prescriptions, including opioids, were filled at U.S. pharmacies. Not all of the pills get used. It is estimated that over one-third of prescriptions, or 1.2 billion, go unused each year, posing a significant risk of misuse and accidental poisonings.

According to The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 11.1 million Americans age 12 and older misused prescription pain relievers in 2017. The majority of abused prescription drugs came from family and friends via a home medicine cabinet.

“Medicines that are considered controlled substances, are controlled for a reason,” says Dr. Kelly J. Clark, a national addiction expert. “Because they have misuse risk.”

She says her patients often tell her they’ve taken their relatives or neighbor’s medication out of the bottle and replaced them with other pills, like aspirin.

“What we see are overdoses, not just from opioids, but from a mixture of different controlled substances,” says Dr. Clark, noting autopsies of overdose patients often show the deceased took a combination of prescription drugs including sedatives, benzodiazepines and sleeping pills.

A new at-home disposal option aims to properly and safely get rid of those unused medicines.

Environmental risks

For years pharmacists and doctors have encouraged consumers to clean out their medicine cabinets and get rid of unused medicines ranging from allergy medicines to narcotics and more. The problem? Not all consumers get rid of the drugs and those that do often don’t do it properly.

Some communities have drug take-back days, others have opportunities to mail in old medications. Still many consumers flush the drugs down the toilet, throw them in the sink and dump them in the trash, posing a danger to the environment.

Reports show prescription medications including pain and anti-anxiety medicines, antibiotics, hormones and other drugs are contaminating water supplies and soil across the county. Much of the contamination is blamed on improper drug disposal.

Innovative solution

“If we’re going to curb the opioid epidemic and if we’re going to talk more about the dangers to the environment, we need to have a solution that’s dispensed with medications,” says William Simpson, president of DisposeRx, a non-toxic drug disposal solution.

Here’s how it works: consumers add water and a packet of DisposeRx to a pill vial with unused medicine. Once activated by water, the product quickly forms a gel that both physically and chemically captures and neutralizes the drugs. Consumers can then safely throw out the bottle, without worry of the drug leaching into the environment.

Last year Walmart launched a program to dispense DisposeRx in its 4,700 pharmacies nationwide when consumers filled a prescription for opioids. Pharmacists also give patients an opioid awareness brochure explaining risks and detailing resources.

“We wanted to make sure we could do everything we could to help address the opioid crisis our country was facing,” says licensed pharmacist and consultant George Riedl, who was Walmart U.S.’s president of health and wellness at the time DisposeRx was launched at the retailer’s stores.

“Opioids are a highly-prescribed medication for severe pain relief,” he says. “But once the medication is no longer required, it needs to be eliminated from the household in a timely manner.”

Riedl says pharmacists at store level are happy to be talking with patients about how to safely dispose of unused medicine and empowering them to use this new at-home disposal solution.

Pharmacies including Kroger and Rite Aid are also providing customers DisposeRx when they fill an opioid prescription.

Consumers find the at-home disposal easy and convenient.

Simpson is optimistic that safe disposal of unused medicines will become an industry standard, the same way child-resistant safety caps on medicine bottles became the norm in the 1970s.

Consumers appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the solution to properly eliminate unused medications. “We believe patients want to do the right thing, and DisposeRx gives them the opportunity to do so in an environmentally safe and efficient manner” says Riedl.

Kristen Castillo, [email protected]

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