Proper Medication Disposal: A Need for Improved Awareness

There is a need to improve patient awareness and education regarding the importance of proper medication disposal, according to the results of a recent survey.

Drivers of excess controlled substance disposal behaviors are not well understood,” explained lead study author Daniel Buffington, PharmD, MBA, of the University of South Florida, and colleagues.

In order to better understand disposal behaviors and help inform the design of future innovative drug take-back programs, the research team conducted a cross-sectional survey study including 152 participants who received treatment with an opioid within the previous 2 years and had possession of unused medication after switching to a different opioid or the discontinuation of pain.

Overall, roughly one-third of surveyed patients had disposed of their unused opioid medications. The most commonly reported methods for drug disposal included drug return kiosks and flushing medications down the toilet.

Education on appropriate drug disposal was associated with a significant increase in the likelihood of disposal of unused medication, according to the researchers. Common reasons cited for disposal of unused medications included routine removal of unused medication and instruction from a health care provider. The most common reason for keeping unused medication was a desire to keep opioids on-hand in case of future need.

More than 80% of patients expressed that they would be more likely to use a drug take-back service if they were offered compensation or if the kiosk was in a frequently visited location. Further, roughly half of the survey participants indicated that they would be willing to request an initial partial fill of an opioid prescription in order to reduce the number of unused pills.

“There is a clear need to increase patient awareness about the importance and methods of proper medication disposal, and a great opportunity for health care providers to increase patient education efforts,” concluded the research team. “These study findings also highlight key areas for improvement in drug take-back programs that may promote and incentivize more patients to utilize the services.”

—Julie Gould


  1. Buffington DE, Lozicki A, Alfieri T, Bond TC. Understanding factors that contribute to the disposal of unused opioid medication [published online February 19, 2019]. J Pain Res. 2019 Feb 19;12:725-732. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S171742