Rx Drop Boxes: Do They Work?

Cmdr. John Burke
Published Online: Tuesday, July 10, 2012
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Drop boxes for expired and unwanted medications are becoming more popular--but are they worth the investment?

Almost a year has gone by since I wrote my column on the efforts of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI) and their use of grant funds from Endo Pharmaceuticals. Endo provided money for NADDI to distribute 100 prescription drug drop boxes for unneeded or expired pharmaceuticals to be dropped off at local law enforcement agencies. This free program was such a success that Endo provided a new grant to NADDI this spring, and those boxes are being disbursed at this time.

NADDI has also made the prescription drug drop boxes available for purchase at our website, www.rxdrugdropbox.org. A significant number of boxes have been purchased and are positioned all across the United States. Individuals can go to the website, put in their zip code, and the program will locate the closest box to their residence. Any Rx drop box is included in this website, not just those NADDI has sponsored or sold.

Having been involved with our own local Rx take-back days and participating in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA’s) twice-annual program, I see the drop boxes as the best and most cost-effective solution for removing unwanted or outdated medications from our nation’s medicine cabinets.
Our local take back programs were done in conjunction with a local hospital and operated for 4 hours on a Saturday morning and afternoon. Some advertisement was done with a donation of printing to get the word out. The actual turnout was not bad, but not overwhelming; the first program was plagued with bad weather, something you can’t control and which can easily ruin a 1-day event.

The other issue is that law enforcement must be present at these takeback days in order to take possession of the pharmaceuticals. This requires law enforcement to provide overtime for 1 or 2 officers at a minimum, with additional time taken for putting the medications into the proper storage at the agency. Since we are in the days of limited budgets, this can be a huge issue for a police agency that wants to sponsor such an event.

The DEA offers 2 takeback days per year. It is unknown if those will continue, but my guess is that they will, since the majority of the hours logged are from local and state law enforcement.

The DEA relies on local and state law enforcement to participate, as they are the actual collectors of the drugs. The DEA comes by later and picks up the drugs at the law enforcement entity’s location and processes them for ultimate destruction. I can anticipate less local involvement as their budgets get tighter each year.

Both the local take-back programs and the twice-annual DEA efforts have 1 huge drawback. They are unable to accommodate the people who need to dispose of these drugs at different times. If a loved one passes away just days after the take-back program, you must wait 6 months or more to dispose of unwanted medications. This means storing controlled substances in your home for an extended period of time, exactly what these take-back programs are supposed to address.

Although a few law enforcement agencies had prescription drop boxes already, NADDI was the first to institute a national organized effort of both grants and purchase opportunities. In my mind, this is the wave of the future and the most cost-effective program compared with the take-back days.

The boxes can be accessed in some jurisdictions on a 24/7 basis, 365 days per year, whereas others are at least available on a Monday to Friday schedule during regular business hours. This means that you are no more than a couple of days away from being able to dispose of pharmaceuticals, drastically reducing the opportunity for diversion of these drugs within the home.

These boxes are a great way for law enforcement to provide a service to their communities that really works! Community coalitions, local businesses, and law enforcement have purchased boxes for installation at their agencies while promoting the need to get drugs out of medicine cabinets, reducing the temptation of abuse and diversion.

Do you belong to a local pharmacy organization in your community? Buying a box for your local law enforcement agency may be a very good project to adopt. There is no question that getting these drugs out of medicine cabinets ultimately can save lives.


Cmdr Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. He can be reached by e-mail at burke@ choice.net, via the website www.rxdiversion .com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.


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