Prescription Drug Monitoring and Disposal Best Practices

Key Takeaways from the 2019 Prescription Drug Safety Network Summit

On May 7th, elected officials, educators, healthcare and pharmaceutical professionals, and other stakeholders gathered together for the annual Prescription Drug Safety Network Summit.  Hosted by EVERFI, the event facilitated an exchange of ideas concerning the country’s opioid epidemic. The Summit agenda featured speakers from a range of industries and geographies.

Most teens who illegally acquire painkillers or stimulants don’t buy them from a dealer. Rather, two-thirds of teens who misused prescription drugs in the past year got them from family or friends, often finding them in medicine cabinets. The Prescription Drug Safety Network Summit repeatedly underscored the importance of properly monitoring and disposing prescription drugs within households and communities. Closely monitoring prescription drug supply is paramount in safeguarding against both intentional and unintentional overdoses. U.S. poison control centers receive a staggering number of calls about adolescents overdosing after intentionally misusing prescription drugs and frequent calls about children under 5 being unintentionally exposed to dangerous prescription medication.  

Monitoring The Supply

The Summit emphasized how parents, pharmacists, physicians and schools can all play a role in reducing the amount of unchecked, excess pills circulating their community. Parents should lock their prescriptions away and keep close track of their pill count, noting if their supply ever runs out prior to prescription refill eligibility as that may indicate theft. If their child is prescribed medication, particularly for an acute need such as a sports injury, parents should ask doctors questions about usage duration, such as whether the medication can be discontinued once the pain has gone away.

Senior Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, spoke at the Summit about the need for stricter requirements surrounding prescribing medication. She called on medical universities to educate students on safe prescribing protocols. She expressed support for states that have reduced first-time prescriptions from a 30-day supply to 5-7 days. “If they need a refill at the end of that time, they can get it,” said Conway, “but it seems that it is pills 8 through 30 that are often unneeded and cause so much damage.” Jana Barresi, Senior Director of Federal Government Affairs at Walmart, voiced Walmart’s support for stricter supply limits on acute medication prescriptions. “Pharmacists are an important player in the provider ecosystem,” she added, “and have their own practice and legal responsibilities in serving patients.”

Michigan district superintendent Dr. Wanda Cook Robinson spoke about the role high schools play in proliferating prescription drug abuse. “We did a one-day sweep of prescription drugs at just one high school and we filled an entire garbage bag of pills,” Robinson explained. “We had an excess of 55 million pills floating around our county last year where our students could get access to them. We have a lot of work to do.”  

Disposing Prescription Medication Safely

While limiting and regulating prescriptions is a part of the solution, proper medication disposal is also an essential practice. The DEA’s Drug Take Back Days, occurring twice a year in April and October, encourage people around the country to turn in their unused prescription pills to local drop-off sites, often at pharmacies, police stations, and hospitals. The nationwide event is a true team effort involving many other agencies and individuals. “The last Take Back Day yielded over 4.5 million pounds of pills,” said Conway. “Imagine the sheer unneeded supply that’s still out there.” While these annual designated days are effective, they are costly for organizations like CVS and Walgreens to host more than twice a year.

Controlled substances, such as prescription opioids and stimulants, should be discarded as soon as they are no longer necessary, rather than bi-annually. “Drug Take Back Day should really be every day,” explained Conway. Therefore, it is crucial that families learn safe disposal methods at home, where the majority of teens find prescription drugs. The Summit touched on several recommended resources, like The National Safety Council which provides postage-paid envelopes to anyone in the U.S. to mail pills to a location that safely incinerates them. Conway mentioned Walmart’s at-home option, DisposeRx, an environmentally friendly solution that dissolves pills so they are not consumable. Conway argued against flushing pills down the toilet because of its adverse effects on marine life and environmental safety. Throwing away medication in the trash was also discouraged. However, when it is necessary, the FDA advises to mix the medication with an undesirable substance to reduce its appeal. Proper disposal methods and monitoring tactics are vital in reducing the many hazards in connection with prescription drug use and protecting against further misuse.

To learn more about the work of the Prescription Drug Safety Network click here.