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More Drugstores Take Back Your Unused Meds

Walgreens, CVS and others encourage safe disposal of leftover prescriptions

Throwing medications in the trash

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Safely dispose of your unused or expired medications at pharmacy drop-off boxes.

En español | In an increasingly urgent effort to keep potentially addictive or dangerous prescription drugs out of the wrong hands, retail pharmacies are setting up more stations for the return of unused medications.

The nationwide drugstore chain Walgreens became the first to install drop-off boxes for unwanted or expired prescription and nonprescription medicines in 2016, and now has them in 1,000 of its 8,100 U.S. stores. They look like white or gray mailboxes, where the drugs can be dropped at no charge regardless of where they were purchased. 

“We’ve been kind of blown away by the response we’ve had,” says Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso. The company has collected 270 tons of medication since the start, he says.

CVS Pharmacy kicked off its own drug-collection program in September 2017, and by the end of this month will have installed 750 safe medication disposal bins at stores nationwide and collected more than 175 tons of unwanted meds. Neither CVS nor Walgreens will accept illegal drugs, needles and syringes, inhalers or anything containing mercury. 

And Rite Aid announced this month that it plans to install 100 medication disposal units in its pharmacies within the next year. Meanwhile, all of its 2,500 pharmacies have started offering DisposeRx packets for customers with opioid prescriptions. The small packets include a powder that, when combined with water and unused opioids in the pill container, solidifies into a gel that can be discarded or taken to a drug-collection location. Walmart also offers the free DisposeRx packets for opioids at all of its 4,700 pharmacies.

The number of overdose fatalities continues to grow alarmingly in the United States. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), there were more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016, up 21 percent from the previous year, and more than two-thirds (42,249) of those were related to the use of opioids. Opioids are often first encountered in the form of prescription pain relievers.

“We know that the No. 1 way most young people become exposed to prescription drugs is through home medicine cabinets,” says Wade Sparks, spokesman for the DEA, which strongly encourages Americans to get rid of unneeded or expired meds through its National Prescription Drug Take Back Days twice a year, in April and October. In April the DEA received an unprecedented 475 tons of medications at collection sites around the country. Its next take-back event will be held Oct. 27. 

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