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Disposing of Unused Medications: Are You Educating Your Customers?

  • April 19, 2011
  • RPh on the Go

Many pharmacies offer a disposal service for unused medications, but the reality is that average customers don’t know about it –and don’t know to ask. As pharmacists, it is our business to offer information, because frankly, who else will?

What do most people do with unused medications? For the majority of us, the answer is often to flush them. While this definitively keeps medications out of the hands of children and out of the black market prescription drug trade, it can also raise havoc with the water table. The truth is, water treatment plants are calibrated to address general problems and may not sufficiently remove random drugs from our recycled water. Which poses an environmental problem with regards to groundwater and eventually, potentially the water table itself.

There are a number of options available:

  • Many states have a program to dispose of unused medications, and clients may turn them in to pharmacies, doctors, or medical facilities. Check the particulars and procedures at NCSL.org.
  • Call the local waste disposal service. They may have an incinerator for certain types of household waste. Ask how to package for pickup and for any additional information necessary.
  • Find out if local hospitals will take unused medications to include with their own biohazard waste disposal.

How you can help

The trouble is that there is no aggressive campaign to inform people about the options, and people often dispose of medications without thinking. As a pharmacist, you can take a few minutes of your time to find out what the laws and options are in your state and local area and offer this information to your customers. While there’s no guarantee that every customer will appreciate the information, you will accomplish two things. Opening a dialogue with your customer – a proven method of customer retention – and spreading the word about the dangers of a potentially harmful common practice.

On a related note

There are a lot of diabetics out there using needles and lancets. Do they know how to dispose of these particularly hazardous medical waste? Do you? I have a diabetic relative, and, while I educated her about proper disposal myself, I asked that she report back to me if anyone else ever does. In 10 years of following the course of her disease, with a number of generalists, specialists, and pharmacists, not one of them has ever volunteered information without a query, and even when she asks, they give answers that are vague and unhelpful. One endocrinologist told her simply “Don’t throw them away, that’s illegal.” When she asked what to do instead, he didn’t have the answer. This is vital information. People need to know.

What do you think? Is it our responsibility as pharmacists to learn the answers and volunteer the information? Is it better to wait for someone to ask? Or should we leave it to physicians? Where do we draw the line?

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