Roughly 350 drop-off sites in California will take consumers’ unwanted or unused medications on Saturday and properly dispose of them.
It’s part of an annual nationwide event Saturday called the 10th annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, organized by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and involving hundreds of police stations across California and a large number of Kaiser Permanente medical offices.
It’s one of several efforts statewide to control misuse and abuse of prescription medication.
“When left laying around, too often unused medications get into the hands of seniors, children and others, and usually those medications are expired or no longer being taken,” said Steve Gray, a Kaiser Permanente pharmacist and KP’s pharmacy professional affairs leader for California.
“The most important part of this [effort] is public safety,” Gray said, “so people don’t hurt themselves or hurt others.”
Seniors sometimes self-prescribe with leftover medications, he said, or they give them to other seniors. Children can take them by accident, or drug abusers can steal them.
As part of his job, Gray travels around the state to counties that are considering ordinances to require drug manufacturers to take back unused and unwanted prescription medications.
So far, at least four counties have adopted these rules and another seven to 10 counties are considering legislation, Gray said. He said he’s meeting with Los Angeles County officials on Monday to help shape their take-back policy.
“There is nothing at the state or federal level to deal with this so the counties are trying to do what they can through their ordinances. It gets difficult if each of the 58 counties have a different program. So I try to help identify best practices so [the ordinances] are the same,” Gray said.
“It starts from the premise that drugs are by prescription [only] because consumers don’t have the knowledge to use them on their own, so some are over the counter and some by prescription,” Gray said. “You have to have the knowledge and experience to know when to use them, how to use them and when to stop using them.”
There are a couple of other ways to keep prescription medications from building up, he said:
- Small initial quantity. Instead of prescribing a drug for the first time for a full course of a month or even three months, Gray said there’s an effort underway to start with a smaller amount. “The provider doesn’t know what will be tolerated by you, and doesn’t know whether it’s going to work,” Gray said, “so let’s start out with a small quantity that would be a good test of whether it might work or not first.”
- Mail-back envelopes. Many retail drug stores now sell pre-paid unused-medication envelopes, to more easily dispose of unwanted prescription drugs. “The envelopes are approved by the federal government,” Gray said. “That is probably the most convenient at this point.”
Opioids are the most-misused and dangerous medication, he said, but they’re not the only ones that can be deadly.
“That’s just one category,” he said. “You can really hurt yourself with opioids, but many times people think, ‘I have diabetes, too,’ and they can kill themselves by taking someone else’s diabetes medication.”
Gray said his own parents lived through the Great Depression, “and they don’t like to see anything thrown away,” he said. “They think, ‘Maybe someday I’ll need that.’ This is a real problem with seniors.”