More than 3.8 billion controlled medications, such
as hydrocodone, oxycodone, Valium and Adderall, are dispensed by pharmacies annually
in the United States. It has been estimated that only
about 30 percent of these drugs are
used by the people for whom they were prescribed. The remaining 70 percent
represent a large surplus of controlled medications that could be abused or
sold to others for abuse.
not surprising, then, that non-medical use of prescription drugs is the second
most common form of illicit substance abuse in the country, trailing only marijuana
of unused medications through community-wide take-back events and permanent
receptacles also known as drop boxes is a strategy that is widely employed across
the United States to reduce the availability of controlled medications for
improper use and abuse.
according to a study published in the current online issue of The American
Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, these programs may be minimally effective in
reducing the availability of controlled medications.
to other studies, we found that only about 5 percent of the collection from
take-back events and drop boxes consisted of controlled medications susceptible
to abuse,” said the study’s lead author, Kathleen Egan, M.S., research
associate in social sciences and health policy at Wake Forest School of
Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
remaining 95 percent consisted of non-controlled substances, such as vitamins
and over-the-counter medications, but unlike previous studies we then compared the
number of controlled medications to the number dispensed by pharmacies. And
what we found surprised us – less
than 1 percent of dispensed controlled medications were collected by the disposal
study measured the quantity and type of controlled medications collected during
three federal Drug Enforcement Administration-sponsored take-back events and in
permanent drop boxes in five Kentucky counties in 2013-14, and compared the
figures with the number of controlled medications dispensed in the participating
counties during the same time period.
total of 21,503 units of controlled medications were collected at take-back
events and drop boxes. But that represented just 0.3 percent of the more than
20 million units prescribed, according to the research team.
findings don’t necessarily mean that these programs don’t work,” Egan said.
“The study was limited in both time and scope; the results might be different
in different communities, and over time these programs may influence community norms
and behaviors related to storage, disposal and abuse of controlled medications.”
research in this area is definitely called for, but it appears that these disposal
programs, at least when used in isolation, may not be as effective at reducing the
availability of controlled medications as many of us had hoped, she said.
for the study was provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration under SP019436 and the Association of Accredited Public Health
are Mark Wolfson, Ph.D., of Wake Forest Baptist; Eric Gregory, Ed.D., of the
Save Our Kids Coalition, Bowling Green, Kentucky; and Michael Sparks, M.A., of
Sparks Initiatives, Kihei, Hawaii.
information on how to properly dispose of unused or expired controlled
medications is available on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website at www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/EnsuringSafeUseofMedicine/SafeDisposalofMedicines/ucm186187.htm.