When it comes to surplus medication leftover from a prescription, many may feel the natural urge to just toss it in the garbage, or perhaps flush it down the toilet. However, the FDA has long been trying to communicate to patients that they should not do this.
Trashing the medication risks the leftover medicine falling into the wrong hands, while flushing the medicine has proven to have other serious consequences: A recent study showed that 80 percent of US streams contain a small amount of human medicines. A worrying number of contaminants have also been reported to be found in UK drinking water, and a Canadian study also reported record-breaking levels of three pharmaceuticals in river water in southwestern Ontario.
Walmart pharmacies have recently begun offering a solution to surplus opioids by giving away packets that turn the highly addictive class of drugs into a useless gel. They announced that they will provide the packets free with opioid prescriptions filled at its 4,700 US pharmacies.
In light of this debate, we asked doctors: What do you think is the best way to deal with leftover addictive prescription medication?
Of the 3351 physicians from 51 countries who responded, an overwhelming 70 percent said that surplus medication should be returned to the pharmacy:
“The ideal thing is to return the medicines to the pharmacy…” – Pediatrics, Venezuela
“It would be ideal to return them to the community or hospital pharmacies, and from there under a controlled national plan, supervise them for which they can be recirculated at a lower price.” – Internal Medicine, Spain
“In our country, there is no form of safe collection or anything like that, and unfortunately there is so much shortage of medicines that it is difficult for drugs to survive. However, in the moments that this happens it would be good to have a safe way to get rid of them. For me the ideal would be to return them to the pharmacy and that this in some way or another the discard or redistribute if they are still within your date of use.” – General Practice, Venezuela
“Disposal of unused drugs is a very important problem, and an index of civilization. There are collection points in Italy, usually outside pharmacies, but few use them.” – Gastroenterology, Italy
“I think that the disposal of drugs that are addictive would be better entrusted to pharmacies or anybody that can access a preferential disposal route.” – Rheumatology, Italy
“In France, advertising clips in the media encourage people to bring all their unused medications back to the pharmacy. There is a recycling system: Cyclamed.” – General Practice, France
The poll was fielded in March of 2018. 3,351 physicians responded to the poll. The margin of error for the global poll was ±2%. More information about SERMO polling methodology can be found here.
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